By Marvin Birchfield
After getting off to a running start, the Unicoi County Blue Devils were not to be denied in a 66-44 final over Johnson County.
The Longhorns fell victim to the fire of the Blue Devils' up tempo game in the first half, and the brimstone of big man Jonathan Grindstaff who poured in 20 points during the second half.
"It's always good when you can come out on the road and get a good start and your intensity is high," said Unicoi County coach Jon English. "I knew Johnson County would make a run, and we responded well to that."
Unicoi County came out to grab a 17 point lead by halftime, and exploded on a 22-4 run toward the end of the third period and beginning of the fourth quarter.
Johnson County scored the first basket of the contest with a rebound and put back from Jon Stout.
This was the Longhorns' only lead of the night, as the Blue Devils scored the next nine points with a trey coming from Matt White to make it 9-2 with 5:15 left in the first period.
A field goal down low and three-point shot by Michael Lipford was all the offense the Longhorns came away with for the remainder of the quarter.
Nothing seemed to go the Longhorns' way in the first eight minutes, as an attempted shot at the buzzer was swatted away by Cotton White.
The Blue Devils led 21-7 after the first period of action and showed no signs of slowing down during the second.
Johnson County trimmed the deficit to eleven after a couple of three-point shots from Lipford and Judd Shoun, but a strong finish toward the end of the half gave Unicoi County a 34-17 advantage.
"We're capable of playing like that and this is a good group of guys who are unselfish," said English. "We was able to withstand their rally and this was a good conference win for us."
The start of the second half saw a much different response with the Longhorns than what had transpired during the first.
Johnson County has able to get away from rushing their shots as their guard penetration and kick-out was being executed with effectiveness.
"We did a good job of penetrating with our guards in the third period and getting the kick-out, but we're just not a tough enough team right now," said Johnson County coach Austin Atwood.
After Shoun rebounded his own shot and converted the basket, the Longhorns has shrunk what was once a 22-point lead down to nine with 1:20 left.
Unicoi Co. was feeling more pressure from the defense during the second half, and they elected to go into the inside which became the crucial part of the contest.
"This is the softest team I believe I have ever had," said Atwood. "It didn't matter who we put on Grindstaff because no one could stop him," said Atwood.
A basket down low from Grindstaff with just a few ticks left on the clock gave Unicoi County a 48-34 lead heading into the final period.
"Our coach told us they would make a run and we were able to answer it," said Grindstaff. "This is a tough place to play, and I knew when I got the ball that I had to be ready to go up with it."
Grindstaff scored all but three of the Blue Devils' third quarter points, and dumped in the first 10 of 12 points to start the fourth.
The Longhorns didn't have an answer on how to stop the big man, who finished the night with a game high 29 points.
It wasn't until the 5:00 mark that Johnson County captured a basket off a turn around inside from Justin Genille. They were outscored 15-3 in the first five minutes.
Genille led the 'Horns with eleven points, while Shoun and Lipford both finished with nine apiece.
"We weren't aggressive enough on defense tonight, and we just don't have that fighting edge that we had last year," said Shoun. "Us seniors are going to have to step up and take control, along with being more verbal and keeping everybody pumped up and then I think we'll turn it around."
Unicoi Co. Girls- 60
Johnson Co.- 37
It didn't take the Lady Longhorns long to figure out why the Lady Blue Devils are considered one of the better teams in the area, as Unicoi County won convincingly 60-37.
Johnson Countu had trouble with the turnovers in the first half. They fell behind 33-9 by halftime, but a decently played second half still left them in positive spirits.
"I think we were a little bigger and faster than they were, and also Johnson County had a lot of trouble with turning the ball over in the first-half," said Unicoi County girls coach Glenn Fisher. "We've done so much traveling lately, it was a key for us to get off to a fast start and play with more life and adrenaline."
The Lady Devils led 16-4 after the first period of play with Hali Sparks and Elizabeth Engle leading the way.
Sparks finished the night with 14 points for the Lady Devils, while Weaver dumped in nine.
"We did a good job of passing the ball inside and getting points off the offensive rebound," said Fisher. "It was nice to get such a big lead at the start, so our young players could get some time because we'll need them down the stretch."
Things didn't get any better for Johnson County in the second period. Baskets from Paige Moefield and Becky Stouts along with a free throw by Jenny Tugman were all the points the Longhorns acquired.
Johnson County managed to play a fairly solid second half. They poured in more points in each of the last two quarters than they did the whole first-half.
"We could have given up and thank Unicoi for calling off the dogs, but we came back and continued to fight hard," said Lady Longhorns coach Eric Crabtree. "Every girl played hard and didn't ever give up or stop."
A three-point shot from the corner from the Longhorns' April McCloud and steal with the basket and foul by Ashley Howard made it a 50-19 at the end of the third period.
Johnson County was able to scrap back and make the game respectable during the fourth, as their last bucket came off a three-point goal from Billie Hurd who led the team in scoring with eight points.
"The girls came out and faced the challenge, but everything we did went wrong for us in the first half," said Crabtree. "We still tried to execute our plays and came back by playing hard."