From Staff Reports
Two wins slipped through the fingers of the Unicoi County High School boys’ basketball team (4-16, 1-6) last week.
“We are staying positive and working every day to get better,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “We are trying to get things turned around in a positive manner. We are trying to work on playing well for a full 32. We want to see what happens if we play for a full 32 minutes.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, the Blue Devils found themselves trailing by 15 points, 49-34, in the fourth quarter at Cloudland High School against the Highlanders (7-13) in non-conference play. Sparked by a four-point play by Brett Lingerfelt, the Blue Devils rallied to cut the lead to two points, 51-49. Brock Thompson, Caleb Adkins and Robbie O’Dell all contributed points in this run. The Blue Devils’ full-court pressure rattled the Highlanders and helped them get back in the game.
“I think it got us more energized and more into the game,” Smith said of the pressure. “We still weren’t making shots, but our defense was better and we were rebounding better. Once we got down, we played with a greater sense of urgency. A lot of the games we have played lately have been that way. We get down, then play harder.”
The Highlanders then made 4 of 6 opportunities from the free throw line to build a 54-49 lead.
Cloudland took a 58-53 lead with around 2 minutes to play before a three-pointer by Thompson brought UCHS within two points again, 58-56.
Although they had struggled from the line in the final quarter, making only 14 of 27 attempts, the Highlanders hit their final 4 free throws to seal the 63-59 victory.
Thompson led the Blue Devils in scoring with 22 points (2 three-pointers). He also had 6 rebounds and 6 steals. Caleb Adkins scored 9 points and had 5 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 8 points (2 three-pointers) and had 3 steals. Gavin Casey scored 6 points and had 12 rebounds. Phoenix Holt scored 5 points and had 5 assists. Robbie O’Dell scored 4 points. Danny Lowery and Austin O’Dell (6 rebounds) each scored 2 points. L.J. Mitchell scored 1 point.
The Blue Devils are scheduled to host the Highlanders in Erwin on Feb. 9.
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The Happy Valley Warriors (5-16, 1-6) won their first Three Rivers Conference game of the season when they defeated the Blue Devils, 45-41, in Erwin on Friday, Jan. 18.
Smith’s team found themselves playing from behind the entire game as the Warriors took a 12-4 lead at the end of the first. Happy Valley took a 25-18 lead into halftime.
“We weren’t getting after it like we needed to,” Smith said.
Happy Valley’s lead reached double figures, 33-23, with around 4 minutes to play in the third quarter.
“The third quarter all season long has been the worst quarter for us as far as getting outscored,” Smith said.
The Blue Devils then closed the quarter on a 7-0 run thanks to points by Adkins, Lingerfelt, Austin O’Dell and Thompson. The Warriors led 33-30 going into the final eight minutes of play.
“After we got down, again we felt a sense of urgency,” Smith said. “We decided to do a better job on both ends of the floor.”
The Blue Devils tied the game at 39 following a steal and a basket by Casey.
Offensive rebounding by the Warriors then put them up for good. Following an offensive rebound, Happy Valley went to the free throw line, making 1 of 2. On the miss, the Warriors grabbed another offensive rebound and the Blue Devils fouled. This lead to 2 made free throws for Happy Valley and a 42-39 lead.
“We didn’t box out well and it cost us,” Smith said.
A steal and a basket by Lingerfelt brought the Blue Devils within 1 point, 42-41, again, but Smith’s team could not take advantage of opportunities in the final minutes as the Warriors held on for the victory.
Lingerfelt scored 11 points (1 three-pointer) and had 3 steals in the loss. Casey scored 7 and had 6 rebounds. Thompson scored 7 (1 three-pointer) and had 5 rebounds. Adkins scored 4. Ty Thelen (1 three-pointer) Robbie O’Dell (1 three-pointer) and Danny Lowery each scored 3 points. Austin O’Dell scored 2. Holt scored 1.
Following last week’s games, the Blue Devils are tied with Happy Valley for last place in the Three Rivers Conference.
“If we can get some wins, we can work our way up the conference standings,” Smith said. “With our league, there is going to be a lot of everyone beating everyone. Because of that, the standings could change a lot by the end of the season.”
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The Blue Devils traveled to Sullivan South (16-7, 4-3) for a conference contest with the Rebels on Tuesday, Jan. 22, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
They are scheduled to travel to Johnson County to face the Longhorns (16-4, 6-1) on Friday, Jan. 25. They will host Sullivan East (13-10, 2-4) on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Varsity games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.