By Trey Williams
After a 2-0 start in the Three Rivers Conference, the Unicoi County High School girls basketball team concluded its first lap through the league with some moral victories and a potentially demoralizing defeat.
The Lady Devils (2-4, 12-9) wrapped up an 0-3 stretch last week with a hard-fought loss at defending champion Sullivan Central (6-0, 17-2) on Tuesday, Jan. 14, which is ranked No. 6 in the state, and a 59-52 overtime setback at home against Johnson County on Friday.
UCHS began the week by dropping a 45-37 decision at home against North Buncombe on Monday, Jan. 13. The Lady Devils, coming off a last-second loss to Elizabethton, had lost by 10 but scored 64 points at North Buncombe on Dec. 4.
“We were flat after the Elizabethton loss but bounced back pretty well,” coach Kerri King said.
Indeed, a night later, the Lady Devils entered the fourth quarter tied on the road with the talented, veteran Cougars. Sullivan Central had won its first five league games all by double-digit margins.
“Those girls don’t pout after a tough loss,” King said. “They are pretty tough. They know we competed in every game and all were single-digit losses.”
UCHS held post Abby Crawford, a Wofford signee, to eight points. Six of those, however, came in the fourth quarter.
Forward Ashtan Vance led the Lady Devils with nine points. Senior guard Tenley Holt and Kaylia Street added eight apiece.
“Kaylia went 4-for-4 from two-point field goal (range) against Central,” King said, “and gave us a scoring boost in that game that we were lacking.”
Sullivan Central point guard Peyton Sams, a UVa-Wise signee, led all scorers with 14 points. Ten of those came in the fourth quarter.
In the loss to Johnson County, which won its first league game, Holt found a cutting Osborne with a pass from the top of the key to the right block that created an overtime-forcing lay-in.
“We outlet passed to Tenley off a missed free throw by Johnson County and she found Laurel under the basket,” said King, who was generally displeased with her Lady Devils’ transition defense against Leon Tolley’s Longhorns (1-5, 12-7). “We did a terrible job finding shooters in transition defense. We had talked about that and identified shooters.”
The rebounding was lacking as well. The remedy could leave the Lady Devils winded.
“We didn’t box out and allowed three and four chances on each possession,” King said. “We will fix that or run trying.”
Caroline Podvin led the Lady Devils with 18 points against Johnson County. Holt added 13 points and Vance scored 10.
The Lady Devils trailed by double digits early in the fourth quarter.
The Longhorns made 6 of 8 free throw attempts in overtime.
Johnson County’s Sadie Stout scored a game-high 22 points and Taylor Cox scored 16. Stout made six 3-pointers.
The Lady Devils hosted Happy Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 21, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. UCHS will travel to Sullivan South on Friday, Jan. 24. The junior varsity will play at 3:30 p.m., with the varsity playing at 6:30 p.m.
The Rebels will surely pack some added incentive for the trip. Podvin scored via an offensive rebound to lift the Lady Devils to a 39-38 win last month against South in Erwin.
“They’ll be coming for us,” King said.
Podvin scored a team-high 14 points in the first matchup against the Rebels. Vance added 10 points.
Despite four straight losses in the league, UCHS enters the second half of the Three Rivers schedule tied for fourth with Happy Valley. The Lady Devils were picked to finish last.
“We have regrouped,” King said, “and are gonna go to the second round with conference teams and try to implement corrections and adjustments.”