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Blue Devil take over second place in league race

The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team went the distance on Tuesday, Jan. 15, with a 54-47 Three Rivers Conference victory over Elizabethton, but dropped their non-conference bout with David Crockett, 67-50, on Friday, Jan. 15.
UCHS (11-8, TRC 4-1) rattled off their third consecutive league win behind an overall team effort against Elizabethton, according to head coach Michael Smith.
“I’m very proud of the effort from the guys,” he said. “From being physical, to taking care of the ball and getting the rebounds when we needed them. Everyone has grown and gotten better since we started the season.”
Sophomore Trevor Hensley led the effort for the Blue Devils with a game-high 22 points. The underclassman said the win falls back on the growth the team has made since the beginning of the season.
“You could tell at the beginning of the season that we’re young,” Hensley said. “We didn’t have a lot of varsity experience, but tonight really showed our growth … our maturity really shows coming back to play the way we have been.”
Both teams were evenly matched throughout the first half with the Blue Devils taking a 26-23 lead into the half. With different Cyclones reaching the scoring column, UCHS was able to keep Elizabethton’s leading scorer, Michael Robinson, without a bucket in the first half and just five points for the remainder of the game.
The shutdown defense came courtesy of senior point guard Dalton Spears, Smith said, adding the upperclassman has been a staple on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s done a tremendous job this season and limited Robinson the entire night,.” Smith said of Spears’ performance.
As the Blue Devils exited the locker room, junior guard Dylan Putman (17 points) praised the upperclassman with his “lock down” defense on the Cyclone guard.
Following the game, Spears said it was all about the pressure and went on to tip his cap to the rest of his teammates.
“I like what I’m seeing,” Spears added. “We had a rocky start with a couple of bad losses, but we’ve turned it around. We came out tonight and got a big conference win to help build our confidence.”
The victory over Elizabethton gave the Devils possession of second place in the league.
Hensley and Putman handled the brunt of the scoring, but UCHS saw solid play out of their entire rotation, including a key 3-pointer from Chase McNabb with 3:10 to go in the fourth to help get some separation from Elizabethton down the stretch.
“Everyone really played well tonight,” Smith said. “Chase and Hunter (Hensley) really gave us some good minutes. We were able to switch Clay (Simpson) and Jacob (Smith) in and out and use them together down the stretch.”
Bo Pless led Elizabethton with a team-high 21 points and was joined in double figures by Alex Norwood with 10.
Simpson and Smith combined for 10 points down in the paint. Spears scored two points and McNabb scored three to round out the scoring for UCHS.
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The Blue Devils battled with the David Crockett Pioneers (17-4) and pulled with six points on a few occasions, but were unable to stop Appalachian State University signee Patrick Good (26 points).
“We did a good job getting back into it,” Smith said. “We cut it within eight at the half and were within six a couple of times, but Patrick did a good job of knocking down a shot or making a pass to get them going again.”
David Crockett took the early 19-4 lead at the end of the first, but the Blue Devils were able to roar back to cut the deficit to 30-22 at the half.
UCHS put together a five-point run midway through the third, but Good stalled the effort with a 3-pointer and a late layup with time expiring to give the Pioneers a 45-36 lead at the end of third. The Pioneers rode that momentum to the victory.
Simpson (14 points) proved to be a nuisance down low for the Pioneers, scoring nine of his points in the second half.
“Clay did a good job out there for us,” Smith said. “He got us going and came down with some offensive boards and got a couple of defensive rebounds that transitioned into points.”
Putman tacked on 11 for the Blue Devils, while Trevor Hensley added 10.
Smith added eight for UCHS. Danny Lowery scored three points, McNabb scored two points and Eli Gillis scored one point.
Dustin Day had 19 points, while Josh Releford had 14 points to lead the Pioneers in double figures.
Coach Smith praised the late game efforts of his team, but with an upcoming stretch of conference games, he added they can’t have a rough start against any opponent.
“We can’t have that start against anybody,” he said. “On the road in hostile environments we’re going to have to play well to stay where we want to be in the conference.”
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UCHS traveled to Happy Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 19, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline with hopes of extending their league winning streak to four games.
The Blue Devils cap off the week with a trip to Colonial Heights in a rematch against Sullivan South. Boys junior varsity opens each night with games at 5 p.m. followed by varsity at 8 p.m.
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The UCHS freshman and JV teams competed against Greeneville on Monday, Jan. 18.
The Blue Devil freshman team will compete against Sullivan South in Erwin on Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m.