Lady 'Horns show  improvement in  loss to Unicoi Co.

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--You won't find a more encouraging 17-point loss than the one the Johnson County Lady Longhorns had on Friday night.
   The Lady 'Horns played Watauga Conference powerhouse Unicoi County tough before going down 55-38 at Ray Shoun Gym.
   The Lady Blue Devils entered the contest undefeated in Watauga Conference play, while Johnson County is now 1-8 overall and still searching for its first league victory.
   But this game was one that could carry the Lady 'Horns through the rest of the season, as they kept it very respectable against the Blue Devils.
   "We've been playing a lot better," Johnson County point guard Courtney Shaw said. "We're getting a lot better. Things are coming together for us. We're playing a lot better as a team."
   Johnson County head coach Eric Crabtree was reasonably pleased with how his team played on Friday night.
   "This has to be one of the better games we've played," he said. "It's hard for me to say we played great, because we still only scored 38 points and we had opportunities to score a lot more. But I can't fault their effort. They did what we needed to do. Sometimes we weren't as strong with the ball as we needed to be. But that's going to come. We've just got to get confidence."
   Any chance for a Johnson County upset might have gone by the wayside in the third quarter. The Lady Horns were only down 25-16 at the half, but then got outscored 18-10 in the frame.
   Unicoi held a commanding 43-26 advantage after that.
   The Lady 'Devils were sparked in the third by Hali Sparks and Candace Shelton, who both hit three key field goals in the frame after being relatively quiet in the first half.
   "They came out in the third quarter on fire," Crabtree said about the Blue Devils. "That was probably the difference. They got the lead and really kept the same lead all the way. We pretty much played with them with the exception of the first three minutes of the third quarter."
   Said Shaw: "Third quarters just kill us. Third quarters always kill us. We down by seven or eight, and they went on a six-point run, and it just killed us."
   This young Johnson County team is getting more experienced every day with freshmen like Ryann Tillman, Paige Morefield and Jenny Tugaman all seeing more action. Tillman led the team in scoring again, as she finished with 12 points on the night.
   "Our freshmen are playing better," Shaw said.
   Elena Owens added nine points for Johnson County.
   Amber Bailey topped Unicoi County with 17 points, while Sparks and Shelton netted 11 and 10, respectively for the Lady 'Devils.
   It has been a frustrating season for the Lady Longhorns, but they showed in this contest that there is no giving up in this bunch.
   "You know we're never going to give in," Crabtree said. "These girls are going to fight until the end. I'm proud of them for that."
   The Lady Longhorns will be back in action on Monday night against Class A powerhouse Cloudland.