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Jr. Lady Devils advance

Unicoi County Middle School lives to fight another day in the postseason.
The Jr. Lady Blue Devils basketball team opened the TMSAA Area 1 Class AAA tournament with a 27-23 victory over Johnson County on Monday, Jan. 25, in Kingsport.
With a win under their belts, the ladies automatically earned two games more in the tournament. UCMS played against Colonial Heights in the winners’ bracket final on Tuesday, Jan. 26, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. A win will send the girls into the championship game on Thursday, Jan. 28, at John Sevier at 6:45 p.m. and automatically qualify the girls for the state sectional. A loss Tuesday will send the girls into Thursday’s consolation game with a chance to earn a bid to the sectional tournament.
After a break due to Winter Storm Jonas, it was interesting to see how the girls would respond Monday, according to UCMS head coach Lauren Trivette. UCMS was scheduled to play for the Middle 8 Conference tournament championship last week, but the game was cancelled due to weather. UCMS assumed the third seed in the Area 1 tournament, while Liberty Bell received a bye as the top seed in the tourney.
“It was hard to play today with us being out of school most of the week and the weather being bad,” Trivette said. “We only practiced two days since we played last Tuesday. I was a little worried about being sluggish.”
And the unknown also awaited the Lady Devils, Trivette said. While Unicoi County and Johnson County meet at the high school level, both teams compete in different conferences at the middle school level.
“It took us a little bit to get going since we haven’t been able to get in the gym much,” she added. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, especially since Johnson County isn’t a team we know much about. It was a big game for us and the girls knew if we lost, we were done. They stepped up and did what needed to be done to seal the win.”
Offense came at a premium Monday night. The Lady Devils used an 11-point third quarter effort to prop up a lead and outlasted a fourth quarter rally by Johnson County. UCMS relied on the stingy play on defense by Ashtan Vance and play in the paint by Nickolette Ferguson, Trivette said.
“Ashtan played some amazing defense tonight,” she added. “Nickolette had some huge boards for us, too.”
Caroline Podvin and Leah Edney led UCMS with six points each. Kaitlin Bailey, Ferguson and Vance added four points each. Kaylia Street added a 3-pointer to round of the scoring for the squad.
The win felt sweet for the ladies, but their attention quickly turned to Tuesday’s game.
“It is a big relief knowing that we have two more games, but we definitely want to win tomorrow night to seal going to sectional,” Trivette said. “The girls know they have to play their best game during tournament time. They have played hard during the tournament games so far and stepped up their game. They want to win this and I know they are definitely capable of doing so.”
Updates from the remaining tournament games will be featured online with a full recap set for the upcoming issue of The Erwin Record.
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After splitting the regular season series, the Jr. Lady Devils were not going to be denied in the rubber match against their league foes.
UCMS held T.A. Dugger to just two points in the first quarter and led the way in a defensive battle that earned the Jr. Lady Devils a 34-25 triumph in the Middle 8 Conference tournament semifinal game on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at John Sevier Middle School in Kingsport.
Ferguson (nine points) got the Lady Devils off to a hot start, scoring five of the team’s six points in the quarter to give UCMS a four-point advantage against TAD.
With their backs against the wall, Kaitlyn Light helped T.A. Dugger begin to chip away against UCMS, knocking down three points to help her team on a 7-4 run throughout the second period to cut the deficit within one point, 10-9, at intermission.
Vance went on a tear for UCMS, scoring 11 of her game-high 14 points in the second half to propel her team to victory.
Light scored 10 points and Kaylen Shell added nine points for Lady Cyclones.