By Trey Williams
The good news for the Unicoi County High School girls basketball team is that it had a chance to win all three conference games in as many days against quality Three Rivers Conference opponents last week.
The bad news is the Lady Devils went 0-for-3.
It began on Monday, Feb. 10, with a 52-48 overtime loss at Johnson County. Unicoi’s Ashtan Vance forced OT with a basket. Caroline Podvin scored 10 points.
But a night later the real heart breaker occurred in the Devils Den. Unicoi County had a chance to deny sixth-ranked Sullivan Central a second straight league title and a perfect 12-0 league record, but came up short after leading much of the way.
The upset was nearly pulled off on a night when the Blue Devils all-time leading scorer, Amy Engle Shulman, was in attendance.
“It felt good knowing we were doing that good in front of someone really good like Amy Engle,” senior guard Tenley Holt said.
Ashtan Vance scored 15 of her 16 points while helping Unicoi build a 23-18 halftime lead.
“I don’t know what we’d do without her,” Holt said. “She pushes through with that (recovering) knee showing that she wants it. She’s a fighter.
“I knew that she was on and I knew I had to look for her, because Ashtan really wanted that. And it sucks that it slipped through our hands right at the end.”
Podvin scored 14 points in the loss at Elizabethton on Wednesday. The Cyclones’ Twin Towers of Morgan Headrick and Kaitlyn Bailey scored 17 and 15 points, respectively. Bailey, a former Blue Devil, and Headrick are each 6-foot or taller.
The Blue Devils (13-15) nearly always have a size disadvantage, which will be the case when they open District 1-AA tournament play against seventh-seeded Happy Valley (16-13) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Sullivan East. Unicoi is the sixth seed.
Unicoi will be looking to complete a hat trick against the Warriors. The Devils won 55-53 at Happy Valley on Dec. 6 and 40-39 at home on Jan. 21.
“It’s hard because we only have one main post,” Holt said, “and I guess what kills us a lot is just rebounds and everything, because it’s hard to match up against their two posts when we only have Caroline down low.”
Unicoi’s busy week included a 60-27 loss to Cloudland on Friday, before Holt helped snap the skid with 24 points in a 51-45 win at Hampton on Saturday. Don’t let the points fool ya. Holt said her legs were feeling the effects of five games in six days.
“I had to push through because I knew we needed that win,” Holt said. “I knew I needed to step up because I saw the look in everybody’s eyes toward the beginning of the game. We definitely needed that win. I wasn’t gonna let it go.”
Freshmen Laurel Osborne and Jocelyn Metcalf have been steady during Podvin’s absence.
“Laurel Osborne’s been doing really great,” Holt said, “with Caroline being out these past two games and having Laurel step up and give us a post presence and rebounding. And then Jocelyn’s helping us out on our defensive end. And they’re just freshmen. I love to see how hard they’re pushing and know how much they want it. I love playing with those two.”
Winning a third straight against Happy Valley will be all the more challenging.
“It’s definitely gonna be a fight,” Holt said. “It’s not gonna be easy, but I know we’re gonna come out and go as hard as we can. I think we believe that we can push through. We believe we have a chance (in the tournament).”