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Devils earn top seed in District 1-AA tournament

Blue Devil Brett Lingerfelt battles for a rebound with David Crockett’s John Kollie. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School boys basketball team will be the top seed in this week’s District 1-AA tournament being played at Elizabethton High School.

The Blue Devils (18-11, 10-2) clinched the Three Rivers Conference championship and the number one seed in the tournament with a victory over Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

“We are excited to win the league,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “One of the goals our team set this season was to win the conference title and we’ve done that; it’s a great accomplishment.”

Smith also said his team is now focused on its next goal – winning a district crown.

“We are ready to move on and try to win the district,” Smith added.

Thanks to their conference championship, the top-seeded Blue Devils received a bye in the District 1-AA tournament and an automatic spot in the Region 1-AA tournament. UCHS will play in the district’s semifinal round on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m. against the winner of the game between the fourth-seeded Elizabethton Cyclones and fifth-seeded Sullivan South Rebels being played on Friday, Feb. 16.

A win over Elizabethton/South on Saturday will send the Blue Devils to the championship game to be played on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 7:30 p.m. A loss will send the team to the consolation game, which will be played on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

On the other side of the bracket, Sullivan East (the two seed) will face Happy Valley (the seventh seed) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Johnson County (the three seed) will play Sullivan Central (the six seed) on Friday. The season will end for the losers of these games. The winners of each of these games will play on Saturday in the semifinals at 5 p.m.

The winner of the semifinal game will go to the championship on Tuesday; the loser will go to Tuesday’s consolation game.

• • •

The Blue Devils wrapped up the last week of the regular season with games against conference foe Sullivan Central and non-conference opponents David Crockett and Cloudland.

There was a lot on the line when UCHS faced Central on Tuesday, Feb. 6, in Erwin.

“We had to win that game to make sure we were going to win the league and be the one seed,” Smith said. “Our guys knew that and did what they had to do to win.”

The first matchup against the Blue Devils and Cougars was an epic, four overtime battle. Last week’s game was a different story. Despite finding themselves trailing, 12-8, at the end of the first quarter, the Blue Devils were able to refocus and fight their way into a small lead, 21-20, at halftime.

UCHS took control of the game in the third quarter and rode that momentum to win the game, 60-45.

Trevor Hensley led the Blue Devils in scoring and also had 9 rebounds. Brock Thompson scored 12. Troy Podvin scored 9 and had 8 rebounds. Brett Strother scored 8. Brett Lingerfelt scored 5. Danny Lowery scored 2.

• • •

The third matchup this season between the David Crockett Pioneers and the Blue Devils was a three-point shootout.

The Pioneers previously beat the Blue Devils, 77-66, during the Hardee’s Classic in November 2017. UCHS defeated Crockett in Erwin, 71-64, in January. This time around, it was the Pioneers, led by head coach John Good, who came out on top, winning 70-60 at home on Thursday, Feb. 8. The teams combined to hit 23 three-pointers in the game (Crockett – 15, Unicoi County – 8).

It was Unicoi County that got off to the best start last week. On a three-pointer by Brett Lingerfelt and baskets by Trevor Hensley, Brett Strother and Gavin Casey, the Blue Devils took an early 9-4 lead.

Crockett’s Jordan Hensley and Bryan Rodriquez then hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Pioneers a 10-9 lead. Following a three-point play by Blue Devil Troy Podvin, Pioneer Mchale Bright converted a basket and Camara Bradley hit a three-pointer for a 15-12 Crockett advantage at the end of the first quarter.

Four three-pointers in the first half of the second quarter – by Bright, Rodriquez, Tee Johnson and Hensley – lifted Crockett to a 29-20 lead over Unicoi County. However, a three-pointer by Podvin, one by Brock Thompson and a bucket by Danny Lowery contributed to a run by the Blue Devils to cut the Pioneers’ lead to five points, 33-28, at halftime.

Four consecutive points by Hensley brought the Blue Devils within one point, 33-32, in the first minute of the third quarter. Bright then converted two free throws and John Kollie scored to put Crockett up, 37-32. The Blue Devils answered with 5 unanswered points on a three-pointer by Podvin and a bucket by Hensley to tie the game, 37-37.

Just as they did throughout the game, the Pioneers found an answer beyond the arc – this time by Hensley. Podvin scored again for Unicoi County, then Bradley hit a three-pointer for a 43-39 Pioneer advantage.

Hensley and Prince Kollie hit another pair of three-pointers and Crockett led 49-45 with one minute to play in the third quarter. Unicoi County then took a 50-49 lead on a three-pointer by Podvin and a transition basket by Hensley.

Once again, the Pioneers responded. Hensley hit a three-pointer in front of his team’s bench as the buzzer sounded to give Crockett a 52-50 lead going into the final eight minutes of play.

Five points by Thompson and two by Podvin lifted Unicoi County to a 57-54 lead in the fourth quarter before Bradley’s three-pointer tied the game again with five minutes to play. Podvin then hit another three-pointer which gave the Blue Devils their final lead of the game.

Bright immediately responded with a three-pointer of his own, tying the game, 60-60. Bright’s jump shot moments later put his team in the lead for good. Crockett then converted 8-8 free throws in the final minutes to win the game, 70-60.

“They did a very good job of getting open against our zone,” Smith said. “We had some good shots in the fourth quarter, but we couldn’t get anything to go. They took a lead and we had to foul them and they made free throws down the stretch to win the game.”

Podvin had a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead UCHS against Crockett. Hensley scored 15 points and had 7 assists and 5 rebounds. Thompson scored 8. Gavin Casey scored 4 with 3 assists. Brett Lingerfelt scored 3. Lowery scored 3 with 4 rebounds. Strother scored 2.

• • •

After taking a 38-27 lead into halftime, the Blue Devils outscored Cloudland 17-2 in the third quarter on their way to a 70-47 victory in Erwin on Saturday, Feb. 10.

“We played well against Cloudland,” Smith said. “Our defense did a good job of forcing turnovers and turning those into easy baskets.”

Hensley scored 20 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 8 steals and 6 assists. Thompson scored 16. Podvin scored 11 and had 6 rebounds. Casey scored 11 and had 4 rebounds. Lowery scored 4. Lingerfelt and Robbie O’Dell scored 3 points each. Ty Thelen and Nicholas Lynch each scored 1.