From Staff Reports
After struggling for several weeks to get a victory, the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team ended the regular season last week with two wins in three games. These victories may have given the Blue Devils (7-21, 2-10) needed momentum going into this week’s District 1-AA tournament.
“I feel like we are playing a lot better,” UCHS head coach Michael Smith said. “We are playing better defensively, but we are doing a much better job offensively. We are getting shots to go and the guys are playing with more confidence.”
Johnson County is the tournament’s top seed. Elizabethton is second, Sullivan East is third, Sullivan South is fourth and Sullivan Central is fifth.
The seventh-place Blue Devils will face the sixth-place Happy Valley Warriors (7-19, 3-7) in the district play-in game on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Happy Valley. The teams split their conference games this season, with the Blue Devils winning in Carter County in December and the Warriors winning in Erwin in January.
“We feel confident that we have a good chance to win,” Smith said. “We won by double digits at their place earlier in the season, then only lost by 4 points at home during a stretch when we were not playing well.”
If the Blue Devils defeat the Warriors, they will play Sullivan East on Friday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. at Happy Valley. A victory over East will set up a semifinal matchup with Elizabethton on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 5 p.m.
A loss to Happy Valley or Sullivan East will end the season. If the Blue Devils make it to the semifinal round, they will automatically qualify for the Region 1-AA tournament.
Sullivan South and Sullivan Central will play on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner of that game will face Johnson County on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the semifinals. The district championship will be played on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m.; the consolation game will be played that same day at 6 p.m.
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On Feb. 5, the Blue Devils went on the road to defeat the Sullivan Central Cougars, 60-55, in their final Three Rivers Conference game of the season.
“We did a great job defensively, especially late in the second half,” Smith said.
In a back-and-forth game, the Blue Devils made plays down the stretch to seal the victory, including clutch free throw shooting by Brett Lingerfelt, who made 5-6 from the charity stripe in the final minute. The team made almost 70 percent of their free throws in the win.
Lingerfelt scored 20 points (3 three-pointers) and had 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Gavin Casey scored 17 and had 8 rebounds. Danny Lowery had 6 points. Phoenix Holt scored 6 (1 three-pointer). Brock Thompson scored 4. Robbie O’Dell and Nicholas Hensley each scored 3. Austin O’Dell scored 1.
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The Blue Devils lost to David Crockett, 59-52, in non-conference action on Friday, Feb. 8, in Erwin. The Pioneers held a 22-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter and rode that to the victory.
“We did not play well early,” Smith said. “We played better in the second half, but we couldn’t really cut into the lead.”
Thompson led the Blue Devils in scoring with 21 points (5 three-pointers) against Crockett. Lowery scored 10. Lingerfelt had 8 (2 three-pointers). Casey had 5. Caleb Adkins and Austin O’Dell each had 3. Ty Thelen had 2.
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The following evening, the Blue Devils bounced back with a 48-37 victory over Cloudland in Erwin on senior night. Things didn’t get off to a great start for UCHS as the Highlanders took a 12-7 lead after the first quarter. The Blue Devils made adjustments and started chipping away at Cloudland’s advantage.
“We extended our zone and covered their shooters better as the game went along,” Smith said.
The Blue Devils reclaimed the lead in the third quarter and led 33-30 going into the final frame. They outscored the Highlanders 15-7 in the fourth to hold on for the win.
Thompson scored 18 points (3 three-pointers) against Cloudland. Lingerfelt scored 15 (2 three-pointers). Casey scored 5. Austin O’Dell scored 4. Robbie O’Dell, Adkins and Lowery each scored 2.