Jason Simmons net

Coach Jason Simmons holds up net in victory.

Volunteer ended the Unicoi County boys basketball team’s 2021-22 season and the Falcons beat the top-seeded Blue Devils in the District 1-AAA championship game on Feb. 21.

And leading scorer Grant Hensley failed to score in the 64-55 loss to Volunteer in the district championship. So 48 hours before the rematch in the Region 1-AAA final, after Hensley had scored 26 points in an impressive 59-51 win against two-time defending state champion Greeneville, he essentially guaranteed a Devils victory in the region championship.

“It’s revenge on Volunteer,” Hensley said. “They should not have beat us in the district championship. They are not beating us again. They put us out last season. It’s absolutely personal.”

Hensley delivered. He scored 14 points to pace three double-figure scorers and the Blue Devils rolled to a 56-36 defeat of Volunteer in the Region 1-AAA championship on Thursday at Treadway Gym in Elizabethton.

It was the Devils’ first region title since 2011.

The Falcons hung around for a half, but Unicoi County began the third quarter with a 15-2 outburst. Hensley’s 14-foot pull-up punctuated it and gave the Blue Devils a 39-21 lead with 2:16 left in the third quarter.

“When we were talking last night, one comment Grant made to the team and I was, ‘This one’s personal,’” Unicoi County coach Jordan Simmons said. “When we played ‘em in the district tournament he had one field goal attempt and zero points against Volunteer. So we reminded him of that quite a bit the past couple of days. So he came out and was much more aggressive, looking for his shot.”

Senior guard Eli Johnson scored 12 points for Unicoi County.

“We’ve been working our butts off trying to get here for years, and we finally did it,” Johnson said. “It feels great. They beat us last time. We had our own motivation to come out here and get ‘em tonight.”

Senior post Lucas Slagle matched Johnson’s 12 points. Freshman point guard Jackson Simmons made key baskets en route to finishing with seven points.

“Grant’s really stepped up,” Jackson Simmons said. “He’s shown that — I think he’s the best player in the area.”

Volunteer, which bounced back to go on the road and win at Halls in the sectional, was heavy-legged after a grueling double-overtime win against Tennessee High in the semifinals.

“I told (Volunteer coach) Zac Crawford, ‘Your kids are tired,’” Jordan Simmons said. “They had to play the play-in game (in the district). They had the double-overtime game with Tennessee High in the (region semifinal) and they had to battle Tennessee High in the (district semifinal). I think in the second half their legs kind of got a little weary, and the fact that our guys picked it up a notch, they just weren’t able to recover.”

The Blue Devils seemed to have the toughest task in the region semifinals. But Hensley scored 13 of his game-high 26 points while helping Unicoi County outscore Greeneville 23-16 in the fourth quarter to secure its first sectional (Sweet 16) berth since 2018.

“All Grant knows is basketball,” Jordan Simmons said. “That’s all his family knows — is basketball, and Unicoi County basketball. So for him to have this type of night to give us an opportunity to play for another championship and a substate (sectional) berth, that’s just a kid who’s put the time in getting what he deserves.”

Greeneville senior guard Adjatay Dabbs scored 21 points, including a 3-pointer that gave it a 41-40 lead with 6:21 to go. Hensley, however, countered with a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils the lead for good with 5:32 remaining.

“We were definitely locked in,” Hensley said. “They ended our season twice. So it was definitely revenge. This is what we’ve been waiting for.”

Johnson and Simmons scored nine and eight points, respectively.

Greeneville coach Brad Woolsey said the Blue Devils’ defense was impressive. Unicoi County played man-to-man defense the first half and a lot of an inverted triangle-and-two on Dabbs and talented 6-foot-7 freshman Trey Thompson (18 points) in the second half.

“Coach Simmons did a great job of keeping us off balance by changing defenses in the second half,” Woolsey said. ““Hensley was huge for them down stretch. He made tough play after tough play. Slagle was a beast on the boards and caused us problems all night.”

Securing a Sweet 16 spot at the expense of a two-time defending state champion was surreal. The sectional berth was a preseason goal for the Blue Devils.

“The guys in our locker room never stopped believing,” Simmons said. “They knew what kind of team we have, what we are capable of. I thought it was just a great night for Unicoi County basketball.”

All-Region 1-AAA

MVP — Grant Hensley, Unicoi County

Lucas Slagle (Unicoi County), Eli Johnson (Unicoi County) Jackson Simmons (Unicoi County), Mason Hensley (Unicoi County), Andrew Knittel (Volunteer), Joltin Harrison (Volunteer), Bradin Minton (Volunteer), Adjatay Dabbs (Greeneville), Zander Phillips (Tennessee High).


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