Blue Devil Brett Lingerfelt releases a jump shot just over the outstretched arms of Sullivan East’s Dayne Davis. (Contributed photo by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

A Three Rivers Conference victory slipped out of the hands of the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team last week. Playing at Sullivan East on Friday, Jan. 4, the Blue Devils (4-11, 1-3) saw an early double-digit lead disappear as the Patriots stole a victory.

In the opening minutes of the game, the Blue Devils played some of their best basketball of the season – outscoring East 19-4 thanks to highlight plays like junior Brett Lingerfelt’s 4-point play. The UCHS defense also offered highlights during the early part of the game, according to head coach Michael Smith.

“I felt like we executed our game plan defensively in the first half really well,” he said. “We also did a good job of getting the shots we wanted and we took advantage of that.”

The Patriots rallied in the final minutes of the first quarter to cut the Blue Devil lead to single digits, 19-11, at the end of the frame. UCHS went on another run in the second quarter to take a 41-29 lead at halftime.

“We felt good at halftime,” Smith said. “Again, we did what we wanted to do defensively. We made them take tough shots. Most of the time we were right where we needed to be defensively.”

The foul disparity began to wear on the Blue Devils in the second half and allowed the Patriots to get back into the game. East cut the lead to two points, 54-52, near the end of the third before Brock Thompson’s three-pointer put UCHS up 57-52 going into the final eight minutes of play.

An offensive rebound by the 6-foot-7 Dayne Davis put the Patriots up 59-57.

Davis was a problem for UCHS, especially in the second half. According to Smith, Davis had 21 rebounds and 15 points in the game with all of his points coming in the second half.

“We are undersized against a player like him,” Smith said. “I am proud of how our guys battled.”

Blue Devil Ty Thelen then tied the game on a jump shot. UCHS then took the lead again, 61-59, when Phoenix Holt hit Thompson for a jump shot in the paint with around 5 minutes to play. It was the last field goal by UCHS in the game and would be the last lead the Blue Devils would have.

The Patriots closed the game on a 14-3 run, thanks in part to opportunities from the free throw line. East hit 10-14 from the line in the final minutes of the game.

“They got 30 points from the free throw line in the game,” Smith said. “They were 30-40. We only shot nine free throws the whole game. I felt like they were calling fouls on us that they weren’t calling fouls on the other end.”

East won the game 73-64.

Thompson led UCHS with a double-double of 25 points (6 three-pointers) and 10 rebounds. Lingerfelt was the only other Blue Devil in double figures with 16 points (3 three-pointers); he also had 4 rebounds and 5 assists.

Danny Lowery scored 6 and had 5 rebounds. Gavin Casey scored 5 points with 4 assists. Thelen scored 4 and had 3 assists. L.J. Mitchell scored 4. Holt scored 2. Austin O’Dell scored 2 and had 5 rebounds.

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The Blue Devils traveled to Cleveland High School after the Christmas break for a tournament, but struggled against some tough competition.

In the opening round of the tournament on Dec. 27, UCHS fell to Bradley Central, 82-59. Thompson scored 20 in the loss, while Lingerfelt added 11.

The following day, the Blue Devils fell to Sequoyah, 67-44. Thompson scored 11 in the loss. Lingerfelt and Lowery both scored 10.

The final day of the tournament on Dec. 29 saw UCHS lose to Hixson, 52-48. Lingefelt led the way with 16 points in the loss. Thompson scored 13.

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The Blue Devils hosted conference foe Elizabethton on Tuesday, Jan. 8, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to continue conference play at home on Friday, Jan. 11, against Sullivan Central. The Blue Devils will host Hampton on Monday, Jan. 14, and travel to Cloudland on Tuesday, Jan. 15, for non-conference games. Junior varsity games are scheduled for 5 p.m. with the varsity games set for 8 p.m.