Unaka girls sneak past Lady Bulldogs

By Ivan Sanders

   Any coach dreads the game right after a big emotional loss for a conference title, and with good reason.
   Case in point was the contest between Unaka and Hampton on Thursday night in which the Lady Rangers of Unaka held on in the final period to outlast a much-improved Hampton Lady Bulldog squad by the score of 59-53 in Snavely Gym before a packed house.
   Unaka played with little emotion after dropping a heartbreaking contest against Cloudland a couple of nights ago for the conference title, but Coach Kenneth Chambers' squad managed to put enough points on the board to take the victory against its in-county rival.
   "I knew they wanted to beat Hampton, but I could tell they were a little emotionally down tonight," stated Chambers after the game. "I started a different line-up hoping to make up for the emotion and it could have actually have hurt more than it helped, but they stepped up when they needed to."
   The game was a close affair throughout the first half of action as Unaka collected a 12-9 lead after one quarter of play behind Heather Taylor's eight points, including two treys. Hampton managed to outscore the Lady Rangers in the second period as Joy Gardner rediscovered her shooting touch to score seven points and give the Lady 'Dogs a 13-12 edge in the frame.
   Julie Roberson stepped up big for the Lady Rangers in the quarter as the tough post player collected seven points on some nifty head and ball fakes in the paint. At the half the scoreboard read 24-22 in favor of Unaka.
   The third period was almost a repeat of the first quarter as Taylor once again blistered the cotton for eight points on the heels of two more treys, while teammate Jessica Osborne contributed with five points to extend the Lady Ranger lead to 43-37 after three complete.
   Heather Chambers and Lacey Oliver added five points and four points respectively for the Lady 'Dogs in the third.
   The Lady Rangers spent most of the fourth period at the line as they visited the charity stripe 22 times, hitting 14 to keep enough distance between them and Hampton. Gardner tried to help her team rally as the streaky shooting guard collected 10 in the frame to go along with three points from Jessi Price, but to no avail as the 'Dogs were forced to foul and the Rangers hit their free throws.
   Taylor felt that she came ready to play after an emotional loss.
   "You've got to set a goal for yourself and reach for it," said Taylor. "This will help to give us confidence as we head into the tournament."
   On the other side of the ledger, coach Leslie Campbell was disappointed in her team's performance, especially after they played such a tough game against conference leader Unicoi County.
   "We couldn't have beaten an elementary school team tonight shooting 20 percent from the field," said Campbell. "I told the girls that whoever played the hardest and executed would win tonight and Unaka did while we didn't."
   Gardner was game-high scorer with 22, followed closely by Taylor with 21. Oliver added nine for the Lady 'Dogs while Chambers and Lindsey Harsh each contributed with seven points.
   Renee Ensor and Roberson had a nice night with 10 points each, with Osborne adding seven points and Kelly Taylor netting six points.
   Unaka has little time to rest as they must play another tough in-county rival in Happy Valley tonight at Happy Valley.