Happy Valley red hot in Devils Den

Photo by Rick Harris
Happy Valley's Tim Whaley works along the baseline.

By Jeff Birchfield
ERWIN -- The only thing hotter than the atmosphere inside Unicoi County's high school gym Friday night was the shooting of Happy Valley. The visiting Warriors traveled to Erwin and came away with a 74-58 win over the Blue Devils.
Scoring from the guard position was particularly good for HV, with Todd Caldwell netting 18 points, Chris Rutledge making 12 points and Ryan Toney adding five points. Drew Davis, a guard/forward, also scored six points coming off three breakaway lay-ups.
"Our guards all hit pretty well," said Happy Valley head coach Charlie Bayless. "We moved the ball pretty good too. We got two or three good fast breaks off foul shots."
The atmosphere for the HV-Unicoi game is unlike any other in the Watauga Conference. The Unicoi County students, many with faces painted blue and white, led a charge out of the locker room with the team in tow. The sound at times was deafening with the gym packed to capacity.
"It reminds me of the old days back in the '60s when we would play Hampton, Johnson City and those teams," remarked Bayless. "You would have a full house. It was good tonight. To me, I love to see it. It's great basketball with the fans staying after each other. It was real clean and the players played real well. It was just a good ballgame."
Prior to taking the floor, one excited Warrior player told teammates, "This is as good as it gets."
Even the sting of losing isn't quite as bad when playing in front of a home crowd so enthusiastic.
"It was a great atmosphere," said Unicoi County head coach John English. "I wish it was like that every night. Happy Valley is such a big game for our school. It's not as fun when you come up on the short end. I have to give Happy Valley a lot of credit coming into this environment and staying focused."
The game itself provided plenty of fireworks in the first period. Jonathan Grindstaff drew first blood putting the Devils up 2-0. HV quickly responded with baskets by Tim Whaley and Caldwell. The Warriors opened up an eight-point margin with a trey from Rutledge before Unicoi stormed back to score six straight points.
In the first four minutes of the second period, the complexion of the game changed as the Warriors outscored the Devils 16-3. Happy Valley would hold at least a 10-point lead the rest of the half and was up 43-28 at the break.
A trey by Toney to open the third period set the tone as HV's lead ranged from 8 to 17 points during the second half.
The Warriors put together an all-around good team effort scoring. Besides the guard play, Alex Carroll scored 11, Tim Whaley scored nine and John Bulla chimed in with seven. On the other end of the court, Carroll blocked four shots. As a whole, the team played with tremendous defensive intensity.
"This is great," said HV senior Jeremy Maddox. "They beat us last year down here in overtime. We wanted to come out and show them we could play this way for four quarters. This is the best win we've had all year.
"This is a pride game, that's what it's all about. It's why everybody is here to watch us play. Everyone's up for it, the crowd, it's exciting."
While Happy Valley was in the midst of their best game of the season, they still found no answer for stopping Jonathan Grindstaff. The Blue Devil center led all scorers with 23 points and showed some nifty moves inside.
"He was a force inside," said English. "We got in a situation where we were scoring, but we were just exchanging baskets. We never could get two to three consecutive stops to where we could cut into the lead."
Bayless and company made some adjustments in an attempt to slow down Grindstaff.
"I tried to double down on him, but he would go right by our players," said Bayless. "They would just flag him on by. He's really tough when he gets the ball."
Matt White with 12 points and Ryan Corn with 11 also gave double-digit efforts for Unicoi County. However, the game took a physical toll on both players. White dislocated his thumb and Corn suffered an ankle injury.
For the Warriors, they left a good impression with the opposing coach.
"We knew coming in they were capable of having a night like that," said English. "They were very explosive. I wouldn't be surprised if they went on a run the second half of the conference schedule and climbed on up the standings. They are an excellent team from top to bottom."
The Blue Devils (8-8, 2-3) will return to action on Monday hosting North Greene and will return to league action on Tuesday against Sullivan North. Happy Valley (7-5, 2-3) faces the daunting challenge of taking on league leading Volunteer on Tuesday night.
By Jeff Birchfield
ERWIN -- "Dee-fence, dee-fence."
Unicoi County's defense clamped down on Happy Valley in a 47-23 Watauga Conference win over the Lady Warriors on Friday night.
The numbers told the story with HV committing 21 turnovers and hitting only 8-of-29 shots from the floor.
"I was real pleased with our defense," said UC head coach Glenn Fisher. "We've struggled on offense the last three weeks and I feel that our defense has carried us through. It was a real battle for a while. I thought they played good defense.
"We made some shots, got some separation and that was the difference. For whatever reason the first part of the season, we scored early and often. The last three weeks we've had the situation where we're just not making shots."
As mentioned by Fisher, the Lady Warriors played strong defense as well. Midway through the third period, they only trailed by a score of 22-14. They had limited the scoring to only three Lady Devil players at that point.
"They're tough," said Happy Valley head coach Ben Godsey. "They play real good defense and we couldn't buy a shot in the second half. We got some good looks at the basket, but we still couldn't convert.
"Defensively for about two and a half to three quarters, we played well. Inside Keila (Williams) played real well, real physical. The guards played well on the post when they would kick it back out. Defensively I thought we were tough, we just couldn't buy a shot."
Scoring for both teams was infrequent throughout the first period with Meghan Headley's bucket for Unicoi County at 4:32, the first score of the game. Brandi Dugger tied the game at 2-2 for the Lady Warriors, before Hali Sparks responded for Unicoi County.
The Lady Devils would lead the remainder of the contest. They led 7-4 at the end of one period, 18-9 at the halftime intermission and 31-14 going into the final quarter before stretching it out to 24 points at the end.
Elizabeth Weaver led the Lady Devils in scoring with 14 points, while Sparks worked her way inside for 13. Headley added six points to the Blue Devil cause.
If there was a bright spot for the Lady Warrior offense, it came in the form of Keila Williams, who bucketed nine.
"We just struggled," said Williams. "They have good posts and we weren't doing that well on offense. We got some good looks at the basket every now and then. It was frustrating because everybody was all excited about the ballgame."
When asked about what the team needs to focus on most, Williams matter of factly stated, "Turnovers and blocking out."
The only other HV played to register multiple scores was Mandy Byrd, who ended up with five points. Dugger, Samantha Canter, Kortney Goulds and Shanna Raines all scored two points, while Terra Whaley made one free throw to round out the scoring summary. Overall at the charity stripe, the Lady Warriors converted on 6-of-16 shots.
With the win, Unicoi County improved its conference record to 4-1 and 12-3 in all games. Happy Valley fell to marks of 2-4 in league action and 6-7 overall. Next up for HV awaits Volunteer, whom the Lady Warriors beat handily earlier in the season.