The Grainger Lady Grizzlies had four players reach double-figure scoring and got off to a fast start to defeat the Unicoi County High School Lady Devil basketball team, 75-53, during the Region 1-AA quarterfinals on Friday, Feb. 26, in Rutledge.
The win extended the Lady Grizzlies record to 24-8 on the season.
Turnovers fed the Grainger offense as the Lady Grizzlies jumped out to a 8-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game.
“Matchup zone will do that to you,” UCHS head coach Kerri King said. “It’ll make you question the shot you’re taking and question the shot you’re passing up. I just felt like, they had length and size. Our girls played well on defense and I can’t fault their effort, there was a lot of sweat equity on the floor, but it didn’t pay off with a win.”
Lady Devil Neelee Griffith clogged up the paint to put UCHS on the board at the 4:11 mark of the first. Back-to-back three-pointers by Chloe Powers and Hannah Rice cut the deficit within 10 points heading to the second quarter, 18-8.
Things went back-and-forth before halftime with no team able to get much separation. Rice was able to put the Lady Devils within single digits, knocking three free throws after drawing a foul behind the arc. Grainger’s Haley Crowe returned the favor to give her team the 34-23 lead with the second half looming.
Depth and size went in favor of the home team to open the third with Grainger outscoring UCHS 19-8 and stalling any momentum of a comeback by UCHS. The Lady Devils pulled back within 10 points after a three-pointer by Powers at the 6:21 mark of the quarter; however, the Lady Grizzlies countered it with back-to-back buckets from Ashlyn Hodge and Karli Combs (game-high 18 points).
In the home court of the fifth consecutive District 2-AA champs, Blue Nation didn’t back down from the challenge. Powers, a freshman, tied a team-high 16 points with senior teammate Rice. Griffith finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
King dished out the praise for the underclassmen stepping up in different roles, along with Griffith, a junior, who proved to be a vital cog to the Lady Devils after injuries mounted up and left the team without a post player near the end of the regular season.
“Neelee played great tonight,” King said. “Every single time we’ve had someone go down due to injury, it’s her filling in at a different spot. If you have a player that can go from a backup point guard to center, you’ve got an exceptional athlete.”
Friday’s loss was the final game for the two UCHS seniors, Rice and Ashlie Padgett. Rice wrapped up her career by joining the 1,000-point club, while Ashlie Padgett (five points) proved to be a versatile player for the team.
King said that Padgett and Rice had been with her since her transition from the middle school program to the high school and said the duo were great individuals, on and off the court.
Kaitlin Simon added 15 points for Grainger, while Ashlyn Hodge and Marisa Hipsher scored 12 points each.
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The Lady Blue Devils wrapped up the 2015-2016 season with a 12-21 record and finished in fourth place in the Three Rivers Conference regular season. UCHS earned fourth in the District 1-AA tournament and picked up a handful of key regular season wins during the year, including a win over Class A power Hampton High School, before entering the postseason.
With the graduation of Rice and Ashlie Padgett, the ladies return Kenedy King, Ashley Edwards and Griffith out of the starting rotation. Sophomore post Halie Padgett will also return next season, after missing the end of the season due to injury. Along with H. Padgett and Kaylee Hendrickson, the UCHS underclassmen will look to make an impact next season, along with the eighth grade class from the middle school, which competed in the TMSAA Area I Class AAA tournament.