Warriors win classic at Unicoi

By Jeff Birchfield


   ERWIN -- Webster's Dictionary lists among its definitions of the word classic as "Serving as a standard of excellence." High school basketball fans could use the same definition for Happy Valley's 66-56 overtime win over Unicoi County at Blue Devil Gymnasium on Friday night.
   Against a backdrop of a noisy and boisterous Unicoi student section, the game was tied on nine separate occasions including the end of regulation. In addition, the two teams swapped the lead 14 times and neither pulled out to more than a five-point lead throughout the four quarters of play.
   It took overtime with the Warriors scoring the first 12 to finally break the game open. As many in the crowd were left horse from screaming and others simply looked in amazement at what they just saw, those who participated were just thankful to be a part of it.
   "It's been such a good rivalry between Happy Valley and Erwin," stated Warrior head coach Charlie Bayless. "I like it this way, a house-full of fans. This is like the old-time basketball with a good clean rivalry. I enjoy this kind of game. Our boys did real well. Cody Whitlock played real well and we got some good time from Andrew Bowman.
   "Adam Smith had a big game. He's been a good shooter, but he had lost his confidence. Tonight, he stepped up and played well. Tim Whaley came through when we needed him."
   Playing without leading scorer Chris Campbell, who's serving a two-game suspension and starting post player Andy Hilton hobbling around on crutches, HV looked to be undermanned against their most heated foe.
   But, on this night several players emerged to carry on in the two seniors' absence. Leading the cause was Smith, who scored a game and season-high 26 points. "I had to step up and play, because there was no one else to step up and score," said Smith. "I knew I had to step up with Chris and Andy being out.
   "I just got the shot down pat. I just felt it that I could shoot the ball. I got confidence and I started firing it and they were falling for me."
   Cody Cannon added 13 points and 7 rebounds in the victory war dance. "Anytime you have a real big post and your leading scorer out, you have to step up," said Cannon. "Adam scoring and Tim grabbing 17 rebounds was unbelievable. We all just meshed as a team tonight. It was unbelievable.
   "The way they come out with the fans fired us up a whole lot. It's a big rivalry and the fans play a big part in it. When they scored, they would scream and when we scored, they would scream. It was a huge battle, but I'm glad we came out with the victory."
   The Devils' Darrell Roop started the madness with a three-point shot, only to see Smith counter with his own shot behind the arc on the other end. As Roop drove for a lay-up to put Unicoi ahead, Lamar Rollins returned the favor for HV.
   It was like that all evening, Roop was fouled at the buzzer to end the half and his foul shot put Unicoi on top 26-23. Happy Valley took a 35-33 lead on a Cannon lay-up right as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter.
   More hi-jinx were in store in the fourth with Whitlock giving the Warriors a short-lived 50-47 lead at the 2:14 mark only to see Unicoi respond with Nick Garland putting the Devils on top a minute later.
   Whaley's shot with six seconds left tied a game destined for overtime.
   As gratifying as the win was for the Warriors, it was equally heartbreaking to the Blue Devils on their home court. "Both teams played their guts out," said UC head coach David Whaley. "They always do when these two teams play. They made some big plays and we made big plays to get back in it.
   "We are just struggling offensively. Our last three games from the three-point line we are 6-for-41. We were 20-for-59 tonight from the field and had a tough time scoring. But, it was a great game. It's always a fun game to play or coach in."
   If one statistic spelled doom for Unicoi County, it was rebounding. Led by Whaley's 17 boards, Happy Valley outrebounded the Blue Devils 35 to 21 in the game.
   "It was just like football," said the sophomore about his monstrous effort that also included 15 points. "When somebody was put out, someone else had to step up. I just tried my best and everything worked out. It was real intense. I got pretty nervous out there, but you just do what you've got to do."
   Said Unicoi coach Whaley, "They really surprised us. We thought we would be able to get a little more on the glass. Most of the year Rollins and Campbell have been their two big rebounders, but tonight you had other players stepping up. We might have made things different if our shots were falling, but it was a great game."
   Roop led Unicoi County with 18 points, while Garland had 13 points and a team-high 6 rebounds.
   With the win, the Warriors now find themselves riding a two-game winning streak in the Watauga Conference, where they improve to a record of 3-4, and 4-8 overall. The Blue Devils fall to 0-6 in league play and 8-7 overall.
   "There's a bunch of us around the same level," said Bayless. "Volunteer, Mountain City and Erwin are all around the same caliber. Elizabethton, Sullivan Central and Hampton are a little better, but the rest of us are around the same."
   ERWIN -
   By Jeff Birchfield
   STAR Staff
   With Unicoi County head coach Glenn Fisher out attending to his ill mother, assistant coach Doyle Phipps guided the Lady Devils to a 43-29 win over Happy Valley at Blue Devil Gym Friday night.
   "I feel like I just got through playing," said Phipps. "You want to do the best job you can do in this situation. In the back of your mind, you think we really don't want to lose this basketball game. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. But, the girls played hard tonight."
   Evident by the final score, it was a rough shooting night for both teams. "You have nights like this," remarked Phipps. "Our girls are much better shooters than they showed tonight, but you run into games like this where two teams are struggling. It made every basket and every possession important."
   Struggling may have been a good term for Unicoi County, but Happy Valley was truly ice-cold going 1-for-20 from the floor in the first half. "At times, we did get some good inside shots," said HV head coach Ben Godsey. "We were just having problems finishing those shots. Hopefully, it will eventually come where we will step up offensively. If Kandra Roberts hadn't scored 14 of her 17 in the fourth quarter, it would look even uglier in the paper."
   Usually the staple of the Lady Warrior offense, Roberts' main contribution may have been at the defensive end, where she dove to the floor on several occasions hustling after loose balls.
   Amy Clark also provided HV with some quality minutes as the senior center finished the night as the Lady Warriors' leading rebounder grabbing five boards.
   Their efforts were not lost on their head coach. "It was a rugged, physical game," commented Godsey. "There wasn't a lot of offense, but I thought we played awful hard. I was real proud of our effort, especially on defense where we ended up with 19 steals. It was just that we didn't have much offense and this was a ragged game, up and down."
   Unicoi only led 10-8 after one quarter of play as HV closed the gap on a Kortney Goulds bucket. Brandi Morgan then converted on a free throw to pull the Lady Warriors within one.
   The Lady Devils responded by reeling off nine straight points, capped off by Kim Anders jumper in the lane. After HV scored on a pair of Brandi Dugger free throws, the Lady Warriors only trailed 19-11 at the half.
   Neither team mustered much offense in the third quarter with Unicoi County holding a 27-15 lead at the end of three. Roberts nailed a three to open the fourth, but it only served as a prelude to a Lady Devil outburst.
   Rachel Oler's trey and Candace Shelton's bucket ended a run that bumped the lead out to 20 points. Roberts scored all nine for HV in a late game response before Anders, Oler and Shelton scored to close out the win.
   "We were ahead and in a situation where they had to come to us," stated Phipps. "Sometimes, it was a little wild looking. Happy Valley was playing harder and more aggressive than the last time we played them. They made us change defenses a couple of times. I was glad when I saw Rachel Oler hit that three-pointer to give us a little room."
   Anders stoked up heat in the Devil attack with 18 points and Shelton fired in 11.
   Unicoi County continues to pace the Watauga Conference with a 5-1 record in league games and a 14-2 overall mark. The Lady Warriors drop to 1-5 in the conference and 3-11 in all games. Next up for HV is a trip to Blountville Tuesday night, where they will face off with the other league leader Sullivan Central inside the Cougar cage.