By Trey Williams
Shorthanded Unicoi County nearly made it a long weekend for the visiting Elizabethton girls basketball team Friday night.
The Lady Devils were without defensive stopper and steady scorer Ashtan Vance, who left the first half of a loss at Sullivan East on Tuesday, Jan. 7, with a knee sprain. And another primary scoring option, Tenley Holt, sat essentially half the game against Elizabethton due to foul trouble.
But there was a big crowd and former UCHS player Kaitlin Bailey was returning home as a Cyclone, and the fired-up Lady Devils seemed almost destined to deny any obstacles from spoiling their upset.
But the Cyclones’ size proved to be a tall task, and 6-foot-2 post Morgan Headrick banked in a short buzzer-beater to allow Elizabethton to escape with a 43-41 Three Rivers Conference victory.
UCHS got 23 points from Caroline Podvin and an encouraging effort from numerous teammates playing more vital roles due to the issues of Vance and Holt.
“I mean I just think our team battled so hard against Elizabethton, because not only was Ashtan out but also Tenley was in foul trouble the entire game and sat most of it,” Lady Devil head coach Kerri King said. “She picked up her second foul early in the first quarter, then had three and sat till half, picked up her fourth foul and sat till midway in fourth. Caroline was carrying the load for us, but Leah (Edney) and Kaylia (Street) both had excellent floor games.”
The Lady Devils (2-2, 12-6) were picked to finish last in the conference. Elizabethton (3-1, 9-7) was picked second.
Vance likely would’ve guarded the talented Bailey, who finished with nine points. Bailey frequently guarded Podvin, who alternated between defending Bailey and Headrick.
The last-second loss will live a lingering, bitter taste.
“Yea, it really does,” Podvin said. “As soon as it went in the buzzer went off. … There was a lot of heart that went into it. We wanted to win so bad. We never trash-talked each other. It was just both of us trying to give it our all.
“Laurel Osborne and Leah and Kaylia really stepped up. Laurel got a lot of rebounds that helped us down low.”
UCHS got some mileage out of full-court pressure, eventually generating 17 turnovers.
Rebounding out of a zone defense against the taller Cyclones was a constant chore.
“We didn’t box out and rebound,” King said. “We had two offensive rebounds for the game. They had four on a single possession.”
Not that she was questioning the size of her players’ heart.
“Jocelyn (Metcalf), Abigail (Rush), Hannah (Shelton) and Laurel (Osborne) haven’t been in that situation before, and I thought they held their own and actually we were the more aggressive team,” King said. “We just took it to them and came up one stop short. … That loss was a tough one to swallow, but it’s just making us more seasoned.”
Size and foul trouble were also issues in a 50-43 loss at Sullivan East on Jan. 7 – the game in which Vance left with a knee sprain that wasn’t expected to sideline her for Tuesday’s game against league favorite Sullivan Central.
“I feel like we didn’t play as well as we could at East,” Podvin said. “Tenley and I got in foul trouble and Ashtan got hurt that game. The bench had to play a lot.”
Podvin and Holt scored 16 and 13 points, respectively, in that one. Holt made three of the Lady Devils’ seven 3-pointers and Podvin made two treys.
UCHS will host Leon Tolley’s Johnson County Longhorns on Friday, Jan. 17.
“I have ultimate respect for Coach Tolley,” King said. “He knows the game, and his team will be ready.”
Podvin anticipates the ‘Horns being a veteran opponent that’s eager to compete.
“I don’t think pretty much anyone graduated,” Podvin said. “So they’ll be the same as last year, and they scrap too. They don’t have a lot of size, but they just scrap a lot.”
The Lady Devils will also host Happy Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 21. The junior varsity Lady Devils are scheduled to play at 4 p.m., with the varsity team taking the court at 6:30 p.m.