From Staff Reports
With a loss in the sectional round, the 2017-18 season came to an end for the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team. The Blue Devils (22-13) fell at Knox Fulton, 90-57, on Monday, March 5.
“It is very disappointing,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “We are very upset about losing the game and not being able to advance to the state tournament.”
This was the first appearance in the substate round for the Blue Devils since 2012.
“Even though we are disappointed with the loss, it is also satisfying to get that far in the postseason again,” Smith said.
This wasn’t the first time Fulton ousted UCHS from postseason play in the substate game. The Falcons also defeated the Blue Devils three previous times, according to Smith.
The Blue Devils came out of the gate with a lot of energy to start Monday’s game and held a 14-10 lead halfway through the first quarter.
“They were pressing us and we were able to take care of the ball and get some good shots, which we made,” Smith said.
Fulton’s defensive pressure then began to wear on the Blue Devils. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Falcons took a 26-16 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“We started turning the ball over, which sparked their run,” Smith said. “We knew going in that we had to take care of the ball and rebound. In the stretches where they made runs on us, we didn’t do either of those things. When we did, we were successful.”
One of the Blue Devils’ best stretches of the game came in the second quarter as they fought their way back into the game. Troy Podvin, Brock Thompson and Trevor Hensley all contributed points in a run that cut Fulton’s lead to one, 30-29, by the midway point of the quarter.
Following a timeout by Fulton head coach Jody Wright, who earned his 700th career victory on Monday, the Falcons closed the first half on a 12-2 run to retake control of the game for good. Fulton led 42-31 at the half and 62-41 at the end of the third quarter.
A bright spot in the loss for the Blue Devils was the return of senior post Clay Simpson, who suffered a knee injury in early December and had not played since.
“I was excited for Clay that he got to play,” Smith said. “It was a boost for us when he was on the floor. He did a good job defensively and rebounding.”
Against Fulton, Hensley scored 22 points and surpassed Lady Devil Amy Engle as the leading scorer in the history of UCHS basketball. Engle, a 1991 graduate, totalled 2,366 points during her career; Hensley finished his career with 2,378 points. Hensley became the all-time leading scorer for the Blue Devils in December.
“Trevor has a great work ethic,” Smith said. “He frequently came to the gym on his own to shoot and work on his game. I don’t know if when he came in as a freshman his goal was to be the leading scorer in the history of the school. I do know that his goal was to become the best player he could be and he did that. I’m very proud of him.”
Thompson scored 12 in the loss. Podvin scored 11. Brett Lingerfelt scored 5. Gavin Casey scored 4. Simpson scored 3.
• • •
Grainger struck early and never let up en route to a 71-55 victory over the Blue Devils in the Region 1-AA championship game on Thursday, March 1, at Chuckey-Doak High School. The loss sent UCHS on the road to face Knox Fulton on March 5.
“We were excited about being in that game, but disappointed to lose it,” Smith said of the region championship. “We didn’t play very well. Grainger imposed their will on us and really controlled the game.”
Hensley scored 26 points in the loss. Thompson scored 8 and had 3 assists. Casey scored 7 and had 4 rebounds. Lingefelt scored 6. Podvin scored 5 and had 10 rebounds. Austin O’Dell scored 3.
Following the championship game, Hensley, Podvin, Thompson and Lowery were named to the Region 1-AA all-tournament team.
• • •
After defeating Greeneville in the quarterfinals of the region, the Blue Devils faced Elizabethton – a team they had beaten in all three contests between the squads this season. The previous game between the two teams resulted in a dramatic come-from-behind victory in overtime by UCHS in the semifinals of the District 1-AA tournament.
Playing at Chuckey-Doak High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, the Blue Devils squashed any hopes the Cyclones may have had about a chance at victory in the first half. UCHS took a 19-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 42-24 lead into halftime.
“That was one of the best halves we had all season,” Smith said. “We shot 81 percent from the field in the first half.”
Elizabethton cut the UCHS lead to 12 points, 52-40, by the end of the third quarter. But, the Blue Devils regrouped to go on an 8-0 run – on baskets by Podvin, Hensley and Lingerfelt – in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. UCHS won the game, 73-50, to advance to the championship game against Grainger.
Hensley scored 32 points with 6 assists and 4 rebounds in the win. Podvin had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Lowery scored 9 and had 7 rebounds. Lingefelt scored 6. Thompson scored 5. Casey scored 4 and had 7 rebounds. Phoenix Holt scored 3.
• • •
During the 2017-18 season, the Blue Devils posted a 10-2 Three Rivers Conference record, won the conference regular season championship and the District 1-AA tournament before taking second place in the Region 1-AA tournament.
“I thought we had a great season,” Smith said. “We met most of the goals we set at the first of the year. We fell a little short in the region, but made a substate game and gave ourselves a 32-minute chance to make it to the state tournament. I think some people would have written us off after Clay got hurt, but we had other guys step up to make sure that our goals were still attainable.”
Monday’s game at Fulton was the last for the team’s three seniors – Hensley, Simpson and Podvin.
“You couldn’t ask for any better players to lead our team,” Smith said. “They are great kids and I wish them all the best. Their work ethic and leadership is the reason we got to where we were.”