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Blue Devils advance to region

The Blue Devils are back in familiar territory.
After holding off elimination in the quarterfinals of the District 1-AA tournament, the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team (14-17) was set to compete in the consolation game against Sullivan East on Tuesday, Feb. 17, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
With a win over East, the Blue Devils will travel on Tuesday, Feb. 24, to the loser of the District 2-AA championship game between Greeneville and Grainger.
A loss to East will send UCHS to the winner of Greeneville/Grainger contest.
A win over either Greeneville or Grainger continues the season for the Blue Devils while a loss will end their season.
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A 58-54 loss to Sullivan South in the district semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 14, sent the Blue Devils to the consolation round.
Trailing 41-32 going into the final period, UCHS went on to outscore South 18-12 to pull within three points, 53-50, after Merrick Nicksic’s three-point play with 35.8 seconds on the clock.
However, the Rebels’ Evan Headrick was able to stall any late spurt by the Blue Devils going 4-4 at the charity stripe with time winding down to help his team into the win column.
Freshman Blue Devil Trevor Hensley led the fight for Blue Nation with 17 points, including drawing a foul on an attempted three-pointer with six seconds remaining.
It was also a strong effort by Nicksic, who finished in double figures with 15 points and led the team with six boards.
UCHS stayed within single digits at the end of the first and second quarters but four three-pointers from Garrett Bowery allowed the Rebels to move their way to the a nine-point lead.
The Blue Devils were able to keep South from pulling away by double digits late in the third with a pair of three-pointers from Davis Webb and Dylan Putman, along with a staunch post presence from sophomore Jacob Smith.
Three Rebels reached double figures with Will Blair leading all scorers with a double-double, 18 points and 12 rebounds.
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After limping into the District 1-AA tournament, the Blue Devils looked like they were back on track with a 50-46 victory over Johnson County on Friday, Feb. 13.
A 26-15 deficit awaited the Blue Devils coming out of intermission and it was a wakeup call for the seniors, English said.
“We had a little talk,” he added. “Our younger guys … they still have another year and the seniors don’t. They responded in the second half.”
Of the respondents was Nicksic, who tallied a single bucket in the first half.
In the second half, Nicksic secured 13 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter, to finish with a team-high 15 points.
“We just wanted to come out in that third quarter with a lot of energy,” he said.
The Blue Devils got that, and then some, with Putman knocking down a pair of three-pointers, along with one three-pointer from Webb and Nicksic to cut the lead within two points heading to the fourth quarter, 33-31.
UCHS knotted up the contest at 33 with a floater from Austin Hendrickson and later took the lead following back-to-back buckets from Nicksic and a steal from Hensley to go up 44-42 with 49 seconds to go.
With Webb, Nicksic, Hendrickson and Will Shelton adding elements to the win, it was key shots from the likes of Hensley and Putman and an inside presence from Smith and Simpson that was a sight to see, senior Zach Thelen said.
“I love to see those guys do good in those situations,” he added. “To be put in those situations, it helps them for the future and helps the program.”
Some wise words from the head coach also added as an extra incentive, Thelen added.
“Coach English is a good motivator,” he said. “We put our heads together and worked to get the win tonight. We didn’t want to go home early.”
Thelen tacked on six boards and four assists.
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