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Blue Devils start 2-0 in league play

Two games into Three Rivers Conference play and the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team sits spotless at the top of the standings.
On Friday, Dec. 5, in Kingsport Blue Devil Merrick Nicksic dropped 22 points, while fellow senior Zach Thelen and sophomore Dylan Putman each went for double figures in the team’s 69-63 win over Sullivan North.
The Blue Devils (7-4, TRC 2-0) were outscored in the first half on Friday by a Golden Raider team that boasted a 32-24 lead at intermission.
A solid effort on the defensive side, aided by a 27-14 run in the third, propelled UCHS in the second half toward the victory.
Blue Devil Dylan Putman added 14 points in the win. Thelen tacked on 12 points.
North was led by a 23-point, game-high performance from Austin Smith.
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On Tuesday, Dec. 2, the Blue Devils scored a 51-37 league victory at home against the Happy Valley Warriors. Freshman Trevor Hensley and Putman each drilled 11 points during victory.
Against the Warriors the Blue Devils saw a 24-plus lead dwindle down to 10, 43-33, with less than three minutes to go in the fourth after a hot start through three quarters..
“We took the foot off the gas,” Blue Devil head coach John English said. “We got a bit complacent, lazy, distracted by some things off the court and (Happy Valley) took advantage and dug into it. I love us getting to that lead, but I didn’t like how we finished; it gave us a lot to talk about after the game and especially about what it takes to play championship-style basketball.”
A mixture of a lineup saw another freshman, Clay Simpson, come up in the final three minutes. Simpson scored six of his seven points during the run and crashed the boards for five rebounds, often duking it out with two or three Warriors.
“I think you can see some progress,” English said of the team. “From the win over Sullivan South, closing out the Hardee’s and to open tonight. We have some guys that are falling into roles and guys coming off the bench.
“Clay, for example, is coming in and giving us a lift. He’s got such a high ceiling and the ball finds him off the glass.”
Progress has been shown across the court, according to Simpson.
“Everywhere,” he said, “from getting the ball in, with the points, the guards and just being able to hold on to the ball. The drives, the kicks – I think we’re rounding out well as a team. All the way from Tennessee Tech, where we started to set our roles, to now. We’re mixing well and you can feel it in the lockerroom.”
Ten Blue Devils scored in the victory.
Davis Webb and Thelen added five points each. Nicksic brought in four. Smith added three. Shelton and Dalton Spears tacked on two each. Guard Austin Hendrickson added a free throw to go with his defensive efforts.
Austin Hicks led the Warriors with 10 points.
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In junior varsity action last week, the Blue Devils also moved to 2-0 in the conference with a 66-33 win against the Golden Raiders and a 52-48 win over the Warriors.
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The Blue Devils returned to action on Tuesday, Dec. 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline on the road at Sullivan East. The Blue Devils were looking to avenge their 82-77 loss to East in the Hardee’s Classic.
Non-conference actions wraps up the week for the Blue Devils with Cloudland coming to Erwin on Thursday, Dec. 11, and Hampton coming to Erwin on Saturday, Dec. 13.
Junior varsity games are set for 5 p.m. while varsity takes the nightcap at 8 p.m.