Trevor Hensley and Dylan Putman combined for 45 points, but it would not be enough to extend the Blue Devils’ season for one more game.
Grainger found the final boost of momentum in a back-and-forth game, outscoring the Unicoi County High School boys’ basketball team, 19-9, in the third quarter to earn a 63-55 win on Saturday, Feb. 27, in Erwin in the Region 1-AA quarterfinals.
The Grizzlies (24-8) were scheduled to compete against Elizabethton in the regional semifinal round, while the Blue Devils ended their season with a 19-13 record.
“It was a great season for us,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “A 19-13 record might not sound great, but with the schedule we had, it was a good season for us. Of the nine teams that beat us, eight were still alive as of Monday. Possibly, seven of the nine teams that beat us could be substate teams. It was a tough schedule, but it got us ready for what we needed. It was a good game against a tough Grainger team … we just couldn’t come out on top.”
Grainger went ahead 52-43 with 3:01 left in the game, but the Blue Devils began to chip away and pulled the contest within four points, 59-55, with a little more than 20 seconds to go. The Grizzlies were able to pull away with the win after sinking the go-ahead free throw attempts.
After starting the game off strong, the Blue Devils carried over a 28-24 lead to halftime. Saturday’s contest had more than 15 lead changes, with the last going in favor of the visitors.
Trevor Hensley went the distance in the game by earning a game-high 27 points and Putman tacked on 18 for coach Smith.
“The third period is really what got us,” Smith said. “We came out up four, then gave up six right off the bat. We just couldn’t get anything to go. Grainger did a good job taking Trevor out in the second half. He only scored six with two of that coming from technical free throws. We had good looks the entire in the game, but we just couldn’t get them to go.”
The game marked the end of the hoops career for seniors Hunter Hensley, Brandon Caldwell, Eli Gillis and Spears.
“For next year’s group to work hard,” Smith said about what attitude the seniors leave for next year’s team. “They were all hard workers. The younger guys will be able to learn from them and that’s what they brought to the game. Just working hard, playing hard and leaving it all out there every night.”
The Blue Devils’ scoring was rounded out by Hunter Hensley and Jacob Smith with four points each and two points by Spears.
Chase McNabb and Michael Howell logged key minutes for the team.
Trevor Hensley knocked down three shots behind the arc while Putman tacked on two.
Junter Warner led the Grizzlies with 12 points and was joined in double figures by Dane Farrow with 10. Dalton Conn also added nine points for the winning squad.
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The Blue Devils ended the year with a third place finish in the Three Rivers Conference for the regular season. After earning a pair of victories in the District 1-AA tournament, the Blue Devils earned runner-up in the tournament finale, falling to Sullivan East.
UCHS returns three starters next season with a handful of players returning who saw time this season. Clay Simpson will be added back to the mix after missing the postseason due to injury. Blue Nation will also receive a crop of eighth graders from Unicoi County Middle School from a club that turned in a solid season for head coach Ken Hilliard.