From Staff Reports
Trailing by 4 points with 30 seconds left to play last week, the Unicoi County High School girls varsity basketball team (11-20) didn’t make the plays necessary to advance in tournament play.
The Lady Devils lost, 46-42, at Grainger on Friday, Feb. 24, which ended their 2016-17 season in the first round of the Region 1-AA tournament.
“We did a great job defensively,” Lady Devil head coach Kerri King said. “We held them way below their season average points per game.”
After getting off to a slow start, the Lady Devils took a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter over the home-standing Lady Grizzlies. Unfortunately for the Lady Devils, Grainger’s matchup zone defense, which troubled the UCHS at moments during the game, clamped down in the second quarter and held them to just 5 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by sophomore guard Chloe Powers.
“We cut through their matchup zone and got the ball where we wanted it, but in the second quarter we had several offensive possessions where we turned it over and didn’t even get a shot off,” King said. “You can’t do that against a caliber team and it not hurt you.”
Fortunately for the Lady Devils, their defensive effort kept them in the game in the first half. The Lady Grizzlies took a 23-14 lead into halftime.
UCHS couldn’t mount a comeback in the third quarter, getting outscored 10-8 in the frame, and trailed 33-22 going into the fourth quarter. It was then that the Lady Devils began to put together a rally to save their season.
The teams traded points for a 37-26 lead with six minutes to play. The Lady Devils then went on a 9-2 run thanks to 4 points by Kenedy King, 3 by Kaylee Hendrickson and 2 by Neelee Griffith to cut the Grainger lead to 4 points, 39-35, with 3:35 to play.
The Lady Grizzlies then got a 3-point play from Kaitlin Simon for a 42-37 lead. UCHS answered right back in transition with Hendrickson found Halie Padgett in the paint for two points.
Karli Combs then answered for Grainger before Hendrickson hit a 3-pointer for a 44-40 score with 1:25 to play. Following a missed free throw, Griffith scored 2 points after grabbing an offensive rebound to put her team within 2 points, 44-42.
Combs was then fouled and then hit 2 free throws for a 46-42 score.
With 31.6 seconds on the clock, Grainger’s defense kept the Lady Devils from getting a shot at the goal until there was 1.1 seconds to play and forced a miss to hold on for the win.
Halie Padget led the Lady Devils in scoring at Grainger with 13 points; she also had 7 rebounds. Kenedy King scored 12 points (3 3-pointers) and had 5 rebounds. Kaylee Henrickson scored 8 points (2 3-pointers), 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Neelee Griffith had 6 points, 9 rebounds, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Chloe Powers scored 3 points (1 3-pointer).
Graduating from the Lady Devil program will be seniors Neelee Griffith and Ashley Edwards.
King said she was proud of her team’s continued development throughout the season.
“We continued to improve as the season progressed and we finished strong,” she added. “The growth we showed makes me excited and optimistic for our future.”
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With the defeat over UCHS, Grainger advanced to the region semifinals where they defeated Happy Valley, 70-36, on Monday, Feb. 26. The Lady Grizzlies will face Greeneville, who also defeated Chuckey-Doak 53-52 in the semifinals on Monday, in the region championship game at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 1, in Erwin. Both Grainger and Greeneville have qualified for the substate round to be played on Saturday, March 4.