From Staff Reports
An early season stretch of competing against some of the region’s best basketball teams continued last week for the Unicoi County
High School girls varsity basketball team.
The Lady Devils (2-4) spent Thanksgiving week playing three games in the Triten Insurance Thanksgiving Tournament at Sullivan East High School. And, despite losing all three of those games, head coach Kerri King saw her team continue to improve as they prepare for their upcoming Three Rivers Conference schedule.
“We play as difficult of a schedule as we can early in the season,” King told The Erwin Record. “I feel like our pre-conference season will have us ready to compete against all our conference opponents. Even though we lost the games last week, we played well in stretches of all of those games. We are a better team than our record shows.”
UCHS opened the Triten Classic against a very good Daniel Boone squad on Nov. 22 when a disastrous start proved too much for the Lady Devils to overcome. Boone held a 28-4 lead at the end of the first frame of play.
“We were locked up in the first quarter,” King said. “We didn’t execute our game plan and we didn’t do the fundamental things we have been doing. After we spotted them 24 points, we played them much closer. We regained our focus, but it was too late.”
From the second quarter on, the Lady Trailblazers only outscored UCHS by nine points and won the game 66-33.
Junior Kenedy King led the Lady Devils in scoring against Boone with 11 points. Seniors Neelee Griffith and Ashley Edwards scored 7 and 4 points, respectively.
Sophomore Kaylee Hendrickson scored 4, junior Halie Padgett scored 3, junior Rachel Lynch scored 2 and freshman Kaitlin Bailey scored 2.
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King didn’t have to wait long to see how her players would bounce back from the loss to Boone – the Lady Devils were back at Sullivan East on Wednesday, Nov. 23, to face the host Lady Patriots. And bounce back they did, according to their head coach.
“Our focus and intensity were 100 percent better than the day before,” King said.
This helped the Lady Devils get off to a solid start against a team that is expected to contend for the Three Rivers Conference championship this season. UCHS led East 14-10 at the end of the first quarter and a 31-29 lead at the half, despite several of the Lady Devils’ starters having to go to the bench because of fouls.
“We were in foul trouble the whole game,” King said.
The game continued to go back and forth during the third period with East chipping one point off the Lady Devils’ lead. At the end of the third, UCHS led 39-38.
The foul trouble really caught up to the Lady Devils during the final eight minutes with three players – Hendrickson, King and Powers fouling out of the game.
“We weren’t at our strongest in the fourth quarter,” King said. “East was able to knock down some shots in the fourth.”
The undermanned Lady Devils were outscored by the Lady Patriots 25-12 in the final eight minutes as the home team earned a 63-51 victory over UCHS.
“We gave a solid effort and showed a lot of intensity,” King said. “Kaylee had a solid floor game. She has made huge strides to lead the team and showed promise as a point guard.”
Padgett led the ladies with a double-double (18 points and 12 rebounds).
Edwards scored 11 points, (2 3-pointers). Griffith scored 7 and had 6 rebounds. Bailey scored 6 and had 8 rebounds. King scored 5 and had 4 rebounds. Powers scored 4 points.
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The Lady Devils’ intensity carried over Thanksgiving into Friday, Nov. 25, as they faced the always tough Hampton Lady Bulldogs. The ladies held their own against Hampton in the first, taking an 11-9 lead after the first frame of play.
In the second, the Lady Devils put together a stretch of their best basketball of the season, taking a 24-14 lead near the midway point of the quarter. Contributing to this lead was a very good effort on the boards, which pleased King.
“We did a great job rebounding against Hampton,” she said, “especially offensively.”
The Lady Bulldogs put together a run of their own during the closing minutes of the first half, thanks to several baskets by guard Shyanne Tuelle. UCHS took a 32-29 lead into the half.
In the second half, foul trouble again plagued the Lady Devils, taking the team out of rhythm and allowing Hampton to make a run. The third quarter ended with UCHS still in the lead, 44-43, but the Lady Bulldogs only needed a few moments in the fourth quarter to take their first lead since the first quarter.
“We keep getting into foul trouble,” King said. “We have to do a better job with that.”
The Lady Devils wouldn’t go down without a fight. With just over a minute to play, Hampton held a 56-49 lead. UCHS would put 7 points on the board in the final minutes, but the Lady Bulldogs made free throws down the stretch to secure the 62-56 win.
Padgett had another double-double against Hampton with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Edwards scored 13 points (4 3-pointers) and had 4 rebounds. Powers scored 9 (2 3-pointers). King scored 9 (1 3-pointer). Griffith scored 6 and had 12 rebounds. Bailey scored 2 and Lynch scored 1. Hendrickson dished out 5 assists.
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The Lady Devils traveled to Science Hill to face the Lady Hilltoppers on Tuesday, Nov. 29, following The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
They are scheduled to play their first Three Rivers Conference game of the season on Friday, Dec. 2, when they travel to Sullivan South. The junior varsity will open play at 3:30 p.m. The varsity squad is scheduled to take the court at 6:30 p.m.
The Lady Devils will host Cloudland on Monday, Dec. 5, and will get a rematch with Sullivan East on Friday, Dec. 8, at the Devils’ Den. The junior varsity is again scheduled to play at 3:30 p.m. with the varsity game beginning at 6:30 p.m.