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Blue Devils win district title, advance to region

The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team with the District 1-AA tournament plaque. Pictured, from left, Clay Simpson, Nicholas Lynch, Brock Thompson, Gavin Casey, Brett Lingerfelt, Trevor Hensley, Troy Podvin, Ty Thelen, Danny Lowery, Austin O’Dell, Nicholas Hensley, Caleb Adkins and Phoenix Holt. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

“Survive and advance” is the name of the game in the postseason. And that’s what the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team (21-11) did over the weekend.

Facing Greeneville High School in a do-or-die game, the Blue Devils overcame a second half deficit in the first round of the Region 1-AA tournament to keep their postseason hopes alive.

“I thought we did a good job of staying focused throughout the game and not getting too anxious about it being a do-or-die game,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “We did a good job defensively. We had a good game plan and we executed it.”

The win advanced the Blue Devils to the Region 1-AA semifinals – another win-or-go-home contest – where they faced Elizabethton on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Chuckey-Doak High School after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. This game was the fourth time UCHS has faced ‘Betsy this season; the three previous meetings were won by Smith’s Blue Devils, including one in the District 1-AA semifinals on Feb. 17.

“It’s hard to beat somebody two or three times, let alone a fourth time,” Smith told The Erwin Record before Tuesday’s game. “It is what it is. We are going to embrace it and do the best we can. It’s going to be a tough game and we have to be ready to play. Hopefully, we can get the win and go to the region finals.”

A loss on Tuesday will end the season for the Blue Devils; a win sends them to the region title game, which will be played on Thursday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at Chuckey-Doak, and to the substate round being played on Monday, March 5. The location of the substate game will be determined by the results of both the Region 1 and Region 2 championship games. The Region 1 winner will host the Region 2 runner-up; the Region 1 runner-up will travel to the winner of Region 2.

Against Greeneville on Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Devils’ Den in Erwin, UCHS took an early 7-2 lead thanks to five points by senior guard Trevor Hensley and two by senior post Troy Podvin.

The Greene Devils would then fight their way back into the game to take trail by only two points, 18-16, at the end of the opening frame.

Greeneville outscored Erwin by one point in the second quarter for a 36-35 Blue Devil advantage at halftime.

“We did a good job of getting off to a good start, which we haven’t been doing lately,” Smith said. “Trevor and Troy were big for us offensively in the first half.”

Greeneville took a 5-point lead, 47-42, over UCHS in the opening minutes of the second half.

“They came out more aggressively than we did in the third quarter, but we were able to recover and turn the tide of the game,” Smith said.

Podvin, Hensley and freshman Brock Thompson then fueled a run that gave the Blue Devils a 54-50 lead at the end of the third quarter.

With the Blue Devils up 55-54 early in the fourth, guard Brett Lingerfelt was fouled behind the three-point line. The sophomore then hit all three free throws to give UCHS a 58-54 lead. Following a turnover by Greeneville, Thompson scored; then Hensley hit a three-pointer after a missed shot by the Greene Devils for a 63-54 UCHS advantage and the Blue Devils never relinquished control of the game. Smith’s squad won the game, 78-64.

Hensley scored 28 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 4 assists in the win. Podvin had a double-double with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Thompson scored 13. Lingerfelt scored 8. Gavin Casey scored 5 and had 5 assists. Danny Lowery scored 2.

• • •

The District 1-AA championship game played on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Elizabethton High School was another battle between two familiar foes. This contest went in favor of the Blue Devils as they defeated the Johnson County Longhorns, 58-55, to win Smith’s first district title as head coach and the program’s first since 2012.

“It was very gratifying to win the district tournament,” Smith said. “I was an assistant for several district championships and those were great, but it is different when you’re the head coach.”

The Blue Devils and the Longhorns went into the fourth quarter of the championship game knotted up at 40 after Thompson found Lowery under the basket for a layup in the final seconds of the third quarter.

“We changed defenses going into the fourth quarter and we did a better job on their shooters,” Smith said. “Limiting them in the fourth quarter was huge.”

Five points by Hensley and two by Podvin lifted UCHS to a 47-42 lead. The Longhorns then answered with a 5-0 run to tie the game at 47.

Podvin then hit a three-pointer, Lowery scored after grabbing an offensive rebound and Lingerfelt found Podvin in the paint for a basket to give UCHS a 54-47 lead and control of the game. Following a basket by the Longhorns, Lowery hit two free throws to give UCHS a 56-49 lead with one minute to play.

Missed free throws by UCHS gave Johnson County some hope in the final minute, but the Blue Devils managed to hold on for the victory.

Hensley scored 22 and had 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in the win. Podvin scored 13 and had 4 rebounds. Thompson scored 9. Lowery scored 6 and had 7 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 5. Casey scored 3.

Following the championship game, Hensley was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Podvin and Thompson were named to the all-tournament team.