Rangers put brakes on undefeated Junior Bucs

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   The streak is over.
   Going on a run of 17 wins into this contest, the University High Junior Bucs were the only unbeaten team in single A, until Tuesday night.
   Leading by 13 in the fourth quarter, the Unaka Rangers turned five straight turnovers into points to wind out a comeback 65-57 victory over the Bucs at Brooks Gymnasium.
   "I thought we played pretty well as a unit," said Unaka head coach Donald Ensor. "We had the opportunity several times to fold up the tents and go home, but we didn't. We kept fighting and they played great.
   "University High has a good team, they are very solid. I was happy with the way we played. It was a big conference game, we know that, but we also realize that we've got several left. We got a huge game Friday night at Cloudland. That's gonna be tough."
   University High was right where it wanted to be after a slam-jam show from Brandon Bradley and a solid boost from Danny Quick, but the Ranger run hurt them.
   "We knew we were going to lose sometime," said University High coach Tony Gordon. "It's just the way these things happen. We expected them to make their runs, but I don't guess we were ready for that strong of a run."
   "I think we were relaxed, and you can't relax against teams at that point. They did what a good team has to do. Rather than lay blame on our guys I've got to give credit where credit is due, and it's certainly due in their case."
   Unaka got a big fourth quarter out of Rusty Chambers, who tallied 12 of a game-high 22 points, but the biggest swings came from a Daniel McInturff trey and three clutch free throws from Derek Cline on an 18-point stretch to seal it up.
   McInturff took a hard bump in the first quarter, landing after a flip courtesy of University High's Brandon Bradley, but he finished hard with 13 points.
   "He's one tough customer, I'll guarantee it," Ensor said. "He got turned a flip and he wouldn't have come out had they not made him."
   "I've never won a game that big in my life," said McInturff. "It was a total team effort. We were behind 13 in the fourth quarter and we fought back. There's not a whole lot you can say about it. From the people that didn't play and cheered us on, all the way to the people that started."
   Cline's clutch free throws ended a solid 11-point outing for the sophomore guard, including a shot to tie the game at the half.
   "Derrick Cline played like a true point guard tonight," said Ensor. "I've been waiting to see that all year. He stepped up in the big game and played it very well."
   Said Cline: "It's one of the biggest wins we've had all season,. We've been practicing for it and we got it. I just went up there and did what I had to do knowing that it would help us in the long run."
   Unaka ousted a lead early against the Junior Bucs, taking a 22-20 advantage after the first period. University High rolled back in front, but the Rangers evened it up at 32-32 before the blue and gold went on their spree.
   Added Gordon: "As a coach, it's frustrating to go through their press three and a half quarters and I know they adjusted it. We just got careless with the basketball and thought we had things wrapped up."
   "Their press killed us," said Junior Buc center Brandon Bradley, who finished with 20. "I thought we had them in our half-court game, but it's a loss. I think we'll be able to bounce back. I can count on my teammates to hit shots but it's not really their fault. Some just didn't go our way."
   Said Ensor: "It's just one game, I realize that it was a big one. If you're in it for the conference title, that one victory is not gonna do it.
   "It keeps you on the right track. We've been on the road forever so we're looking forward to a few games at home. But first, we've gotta come in tomorrow with our heads screwed on right and we've got to go back to work."
   Unaka (Girls) 79
   University High 40
   The Unaka Lady Rangers brought the house down in the first quarter.
   Led by four three-point buckets from Kelly Taylor with a dual threat of Renee Ensor and Heather Taylor, the Lady Rangers took a 29-4 period and never looked back.
   With good inside play from Julie Roberson and Jordan Muratore, the Lady Rangers got another big conference win with their 79-40 victory over the Lady Bucs.
   "We come out ready to play tonight," said Unaka coach Ken Chambers. "We shot the ball well and it kinda took them out of their game.
   "We just seemed like we were ready to play tonight instead of looking ahead to Cloudland. That's another game. We had to win the conference game. UH is a good team and I knew they would be tough over here."
   The Lady Bucs got back into gear behind Duff Rearden and Kristy Bennett, but Unaka's Lacy Gouge and Jessica Osborne was entirely too much for their cause.
   The first period effort from the Taylor twins and company was simply enough for Unaka.
   "That's the first time I started both of them," Chambers said. "We had a couple sick this week, but they always work good together. They were leaving them open and you can't do that."
   "We just went out and played hard. The girls kept fired up on the bench and that's the way they've got to always play."
   "I'm just proud of the team," said Kelly Taylor, who led the game with 14 points. "We all came out confident and ready to play."
   The game sets up a big conference showdown on the road against inner-county rival Cloudland this Friday night in Roan Mountain.
   "I think we're ready for them," Taylor said. "We're going to concentrate the next three days on how we can stop them and hopefully give them a good game."
   Said Chambers: "Cloudland is not UH and everybody knows that. It's gonna be tough up there, they are the best single A team around in East Tennessee. It's going to be different going into it as the underdog, but that's good, I like the underdog role and we're gonna go up there and try our best."
   Boys and girls action begins at 6 p.m at Smith Gymnasium.