By Trey Williams
Junior guard Leah Edney has been one of the unsung pieces of the Unicoi County High School girls basketball team’s 13-10 start this season.
But she suddenly found herself in the spotlight on Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the Devils Den, and everyone was singing her praises.
Edney hustled down the court trailing Tenley Holt’s transition drive after Happy Valley missed a free throw, and stuck back Holt’s miss at the buzzer to lift the Lady Devils to a 40-39 Three Rivers Conference victory.
Edney rebounded and followed in an instinctive blur. She didn’t have time to get nervous, although her eyes initially got big when the ball was coming at her.
“Yeah, they did,” she said with a muted chuckle. “I didn’t really have much time to think about it. It was just kind of automatic, I guess. … That was my first game-winner.”
Suddenly, the role player had a starring role, and hug-seeking teammates were happily mauling her.
“Leah always works hard doing the small things that keep our team together,” said junior wing Caroline Podvin, who matched teammate Ashtan Vance’s 14 points in the victory. “I’m glad she got the chance to make a big shot for us to win.”
No one seemed to be able to make a shot for UCHS (3-5, 13-10) in a frustrating 54-48 loss at Sullivan South on Friday, Jan. 24. The Lady Devils, which held Happy Valley scoreless for the opening 11 minutes, were back at it with stingy defense against the Rebels for most of the night.
But they were also often playing “self-check” at the other end. UCHS missed 22 of the 25 shots they took from 3-point range, and many of those were open opportunities.
“We got good looks, forced turnovers to get multiple possessions the last 4 minutes,” UCHS coach Kerri King said. “Sometimes you just have to make shots. I mean we focus on defense. I love defense. I see games from a defensive perspective. You wouldn’t realize that the way we were short of help line.
“But the best defense in the world is not gonna hold a team totally scoreless. So at some point you just need to knock down more than (12) percent of your shots.”
Podvin led UCHS with 17 points. Holt scored 16, including a short floater that cut the Rebels’ lead to 50-47 with 23 seconds left.
But point guard McKenzie Littleton, who had a game-high 21 points, made a pair of free throws with 19.5 seconds remaining.
Sullivan South (2-5, 8-13) has lost eight games by five points or less this season, including a 39-38 loss at Unicoi County on Dec. 13.
“All of the teams are really close together (in the Three Rivers Conference),” Edney said, “and you have to really do the small things to come out ahead in each game. … The tournament could really go any way, because all of the teams are so close together.”
Unicoi County did the little things at South, King and Edney agreed. But points were hard to manufacture.
Holt’s short pull-up cut South’s lead to 42-40 with 2:01 to go. But Littleton responded by converting a difficult, if not ill-advised, whirling drive to make it 44-40 with 1:32 left.
South coach Terry Hutson commended his point guard’s fearlessness, as well as the Lady Devils’ effort. Their spirited 13-10 start has included key contributions from complementary cogs such as Edney and freshman post Laurel Osborne.
“Laurel is a freshman,” Edney said, “and she’s really been giving us a lot of good minutes on the post – just like offensive rebounding and giving a pressure release.”
UCHS will host Sullivan East on Friday, Jan. 31.
“I think we definitely have to box out and get as many rebounds as possible so we can have more offensive possessions,” Edney said.
Indeed, Edney can speak to the potential value of rebounds.
The Lady Devils will travel to Elizabethton on Tuesday, Feb. 4. The junior varsity game is scheduled for 4 p.m. with the varsity game beginning at 6:30 p.m.