By Trey Williams
Unicoi County High School’s girls basketball team can ill afford to have Caroline Podvin and Tenley Holt in foul trouble, let alone simultaneously – and against red-hot Sullivan East.
But that was the predicament on Friday, Jan. 31, at the Devils Den, and the Patriots blew open a tight game in the second half for a 61-41 Three Rivers Conference victory.
“There was no offensive rebounding and we were just getting tired,” said Ashtan Vance, who scored a team-high 14 points and was encouraged by some teammates playing more taxing roles. “I feel like Leah Edney knocked down a three that we needed and played good defense. I thought Laurel (Osborne) stepped in and helped with the offensive rebounding put-backs. Abigail Rush did a good job.”
Sullivan East (7-2, 17-9), which was coming off a 58-23 win against Sullivan South, seems to be improving each time out since the return of sophomore point guard Riley Nelson from an ankle injury in late December. East beat the Blue Devils (3-6, 13-10), 50-43, in Bluff City on Jan. 7.
“They’ve improved a lot,” Vance said. “It surprised me, to be honest. I really wasn’t expecting them to have been that improved, I guess.”
Unicoi County has now lost seven of eight, six of which have been by single-digit margins.
“After these past few tough losses, I feel like we have been kind of down on ourselves,” Vance said. “But I feel like we can change that at any given point.”
Vance was looking forward to the visit to Elizabethton, which beat Unicoi at the buzzer in the Devils Den in the previous meeting. The teams were scheduled to play on Tuesday, Feb. 4; however, the game has been moved to Wednesday, Feb. 12.
“I was out with a knee injury the last time we played them,” Vance said. “I feel like if we play hard and play like we know we can, we can pull it off.”
Vance said she’s continuing to near a complete recovery from a midseason knee ailment.
“Every game since my knee injury I feel like I’m getting back to where I was in the beginning,” she said. “Having that knee injury kind of set me back for a couple of weeks,” she said. “And then without running and stuff, I started getting a little out of shape. But I’m getting back around now.
“It bothers me a little bit on boxing out, like if I push really hard – where it was the back of my knee where I hyperextended it. Sometimes that hurts a little. But other than that it’s been fine here lately.”
The Lady Devils will visit what figures to be a fired-up Johnson County on Friday, Feb. 7. Unicoi defeated the Longhorns, 59-52, in overtime on Jan. 17 despite 22 points from Sadie Stout.
“We knew they had shooters, but we were playing zone and we weren’t closing out on shooters, specifically Stout,” Vance said. “She knocked down six threes. I feel like if we take that away, I think we’ll be fine.”
Vance wouldn’t be surprised if she’s shadowing Stout much of the night Friday.
Holt scored nine points – all on 3-pointers – against East. Despite the recent rough sledding, Vance said she doesn’t think her team’s confidence has taken a hit. Indeed, a hot homestretch and a productive postseason are still believed to be attainable goals.
“I still believe that, and I know our team does,” Vance said. “After these past few losses, I guess, we’ve kind of been down on ourselves. We’re trying to dig our way back out of that hole.”
The Lady Devils junior varsity will play at 4 p.m. with the varsity taking the court at 6:30 p.m.
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Unicoi County will honor girls basketball great Amy Engle Shulman, along with Andy Baxter, Dustin Phillips and Logan Lyle, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, when it hosts Sullivan Central. Engle Shulman was the state tournament MVP when Unicoi finished runner-up to South Greene in 1991 and went on to be the Southern Conference player of the year in 1996 at East Tennessee State.