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Blue Devils stay perfect in conference play

Brock Thompson drives to the goal at Science Hill last week. (Photo contributed by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The game went down to the final minutes, but the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team (8-3, 3-0) survived a test on the road to earn a Three Rivers Conference victory last week.

Playing the Johnson County Longhorns in Mountain City on Friday, Dec. 15, the Blue Devils found themselves in yet another battle with the familiar conference foe. After trailing 6-5 in the opening minutes, the Blue Devils managed to take a 19-13 lead at the end of the opening quarter thanks to timely scoring by post Danny Lowery, who scored 6 points in the frame, and guard Brett Lingerfelt, who scored 5.

Timely offensive rebounding allowed the Longhorns to hang around in the second quarter. The Blue Devils took a 29-24 lead into intermission.

It was the Longhorns who came out of the gate the strongest in the third quarter. Led by guard Blake Atwood, Johnson County went on a 9-1 run to take a 33-30 lead with 6 minutes to play in the frame. UCHS then answered on a three-pointer by Trevor Hensley, then another Hensley basket following a steal by the senior guard and a three-pointer by guard Brock Thompson. The Blue Devils then led 38-33. The teams mostly traded baskets during the remaining minutes of the quarter. UCHS took a 51-45 lead into the final quarter.

That lead reached 13 points, 63-50, with 3 minutes to play thanks to baskets by Blue Devils Troy Podvin, Lowery, Thompson and Hensley. The Longhorns, however, would not go down without a fight. Johnson County then went on a 9-2 run, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead to a manageable 6 points, 65-59, with 1 minute to play.

Followed by 2 missed free throws by the Blue Devils, Longhorn Bud Icenhour drained a three-pointer for a 65-62 score with 23 seconds to play.

Blue Devil Ty Thelen then hit a free throw, which gave UCHS a more comfortable 4-point margin. The Longhorns then missed a three-pointer and were forced to foul Hensley who hit 2 free throws to with 1 second to play. The Blue Devils held on to get the 68-62 victory.

“This was a good win,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “Johnson County is a good team and their gym is a tough place to play.

“We want to win a conference championship and to do that we are going to have to win tough games like this.”

Hensley led the Blue Devils in scoring on Friday with 25 points. He also had 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Lowery had 12 points and 3 rebounds. Podvin had 11 points and 5 rebounds. Thompson scored 9 with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Lingerfelt scored 7. Gavin Casey scored 2 and Thelen scored 1.

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While the Blue Devils lost on the road to the Science Hill Hilltoppers on Tuesday, Dec. 12, they also lost an important part of their roster for the rest of the season as senior post player Clay Simpson went down with a knee injury.

“Clay is a great player who means a lot to our program,” Smith said. “We hate to lose him for the season because he brings so much to the floor with his defense, rebounding and scoring. He’s also a great kid.”

Thompson hit a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter for a 15-14 score with the Hilltoppers up by 1 point. Things fell apart for the Blue Devils in the second quarter. Not only did they lose Simpson to the injury, they were also outscored 21-8. Science Hill led 36-22 at halftime.

UCHS could never get back into the game in the second half as the Hilltoppers won the non-conference contest 81-53.

Podvin scored 21 points with 8 rebounds in the loss. Hensley scored 16 with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Simpson scored 7 before leaving the game. Thompson and Casey each scored 3. Austin O’Dell scored 2. Lingerfelt scored 1.

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The Blue Devils traveled to Cloudland for a non-conference game on Tuesday, Dec. 19, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They will not play again until after Christmas when they travel to Cleveland, Tennessee, to play in a holiday tournament.