By Curtis Carden
Blue Nation will have another chance to watch their Blue Devils play at home this week.
After a successful stint in the District 1-AA tournament, the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team played the Three Rivers Conference regular season champion Sullivan East Patriots for the tournament championship on Tuesday, Feb. 23, after The Erwin Records press deadline at Sullivan South High School.
With the bid to the district title game, UCHS (19-11) automatically earned a home game for the upcoming Region 1-AA tournament. A schedule for the tournament will be released at a later date this week.
The Blue Devils will square off against either team from the District 2-AA consolation round, which was also scheduled to be played on Tuesday.
With a win Tuesday night, the Blue Devils will face the loser of the Grainger and West Greene contest. A loss will have UCHS host the winner of the contest. Grainger, the second seed in the tournament, was upset by Cumberland Gap in the semifinals. Cumberland Gap and Greeneville were scheduled to play for the District 2-AA championship Tuesday.
The District 1-AA consolation bracket featured Elizabethton and Sullivan South dueling it out for third place.
It was a senior moment this weekend for UCHS sophomore guard Trevor Hensley.
The Blue Devil tallied 26 points and hit free throws down the stretch to help his team knock off Elizabethton, 64-58, in the District 1-AA semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 20, in Colonial Heights.
UCHS squeaked out of halftime with a 31-29 advantage and was able to extend the lead out to six points, 43-37, in the fourth.
The offensive showcase was on for both teams in the fourth, as the Cyclones were able to cut the lead within two points, but late free throws down the stretch by Trevor Hensley helped punch the Blue Devils ticket to this weeks championship game.
Junior Chase McNabb helped the UCHS cause with a double figure scoring night of 12 points, while fellow junior Jacob Smith came up just shy of a double-double with 12 rebounds and eight points.
The win gave the Blue Devils the nod in the rubber match against the Cyclones this season: UCHS earned the first regular season victory in Erwin while Elizabethton took the second contest in Carter County.
The Cyclones were led by a 17-point performance from Bo Pless. Hayden Townsend and Michael Robinson touched double-figure status with 16 points each.
UCHS had their fans on the edge of their seats during the opening night of the district tournament on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Six lead changes in the fourth quarter resulted in Smith hauling in the game-winning rebound as the Blue Devils held off a furious rally by Happy Valley and earned a 62-60 triumph in the tournament quarterfinals.
Happy Valley is a good team and definitely no six-seed team, UCHS head coach Michael Smith said following the game. Our whole league is tough and we knew whoever wed play, it would be a battle. They came to play tonight, especially in the second half.
Jacob Smith (14 points, 17 rebounds) had the moment of the night for the squad, hauling in the eventual game-winning rebounding with under two seconds to go with his team up 61-60.
After a whirlwind of a second half that saw emotions fly, the junior said the team had to keep a level head to pull away with the victory.
We just told ourselves that we have to keep our head on our shoulders and dont do anything stupid, he said. We just had to keep our cool and we were able to get the job done. We just want to win out to give ourselves an easier chance going into the region.
In a game that saw four players reach double figures, the Blue Devil head coach had nothing but praise to go around for his players.
I cant say enough about Jacob tonight, Coach Smith said. He did his job tonight. Everyone helped out tonight, but he was a one-man wrecking crew down low. Trevor came up with big shots. It was a great effort across the board by everyone tonight.
Hensley moved things in favor for the Blue Devils in the fourth and finished with a team-high 15 points. Dalton Spears and Hunter Hensley also tallied 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the team. Dylan Putman had six points and McNabb and Eli Gillis added two points each.
Happy Valley, who has nipped on the heels of the league-leading teams all year long, was led by a standout performance from Austin Hicks, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.