Unaka boys, Little Milligan girls capture regional titles

By Marvin Birchfield

   It was a rematch from a couple of weeks ago but with a different outcome this time around as Unaka toppled Central in the Quad-County tournament championship 46-33 on Saturday at Bayless Gym.
   The Rangers avenged their only loss of the season, which came in the district finals against the Comets.
   On this occasion, it was a much better effort from the Rangers on the defensive side of the ball, which gave them a commanding 18-point lead at the half.
   "It was big for us to come out and play well early since they beat us a few weeks ago, and I give the guys the credit for not hanging their heads down and quitting," said Unaka coach Mark Revis.
   The contest started with a basket from the Rangers' Kyle Wilson, followed by a field-goal from Caleb Johnson to tie it at 2-2.
   Unaka went on a 13-0 run to end the quarter, with Jeff Peters making a strong move down-low, giving the Rangers a 15-2 advantage.
   "I'm really proud of these guys, and I think when they were beat, it made them get more motivated and was the difference in coming back and playing well," said Revis.
   After Central scored the first two buckets of the second quarter, the Rangers again shifted to overdrive, going on an 11-2 run with Andrew Church nailing his second three-point goal of the game with 4 seconds left. Unaka enjoyed a 26-8 lead at the half.
   "We played much better defense this time around, and there was a few times we didn't get the block out, but it was an improved effort on defense from the last time we played," said Revis.
   Two three-point goals from Josh Moore and Nick Sanders rallied the Comets in the third stanza, and a rebound with the put-back by Sanders at the buzzer made it 33-24 with one quarter to play.
   The Rangers, though, were simply too tough in the fourth quarter for Central to make the comeback, as the tournament MVP Brandon Roper sealed the deal with a block and break away basket in the final minute and a half.
   Peters led the Rangers in scoring with 17 points, while Johnson posted high-score for Central with eight.
   Little Milligan 26 (Girls)
   South Central 24
   The Lady Buffaloes held off a hard charging South Central club in the final period to claim a 26-24 victory in the 1-A girls title.
   Little Milligan saw an eight-point lead dwindle in the closing minutes, but solid defense was able to keep the Wildcats from ever obtaining the lead.
   "We worked on boxing out coming in. We knew they were a big team, and we did a good job in the first half, but wore down just a little in the second half," said Little Milligan girls coach David Cable.
   The Buffaloes jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the first period, after receiving a couple of three-point baskets from Megan Holtsclaw and Maggie White.
   Tournament MVP Andrea Tinsman added two points in the first, along with a couple of buckets coming from Carolyn Mauch and Jessica Allen.
   "I had a couple of girls hit some big threes in the start of the game, which opened up their defense a bit, and we were able to do enough toward the end to get the win," said Cable.
   Jessica Brown led South Central by scoring 12 points in the contest, with four scores coming in the second period as the Buffaloes built a 19-13 halftime lead.
   Down 23-15 at the end of three quarters, South Central made a rally in the last period to cut the deficit down to three points with three minutes left in the contest.
   "It's hard to come back when you get down early at this age. It seems to work somewhat on your mind," said South Central girls coach Diann Earhart.
   A rebound and putback from Krystal McMillan made it 25-22, but the Buffaloes were able to keep South Central from scoring more than a bucket in the final minutes to become regional champs.
   Gray 53 (Girls)
   Happy Valley 49
   The Regional 1-AAA championship wasn't decided until the final seconds of the contest, with Gray squeezing out the victory over Happy Valley.
   The Warriors regrouped from trailing by as many as eight points in the second half, but some great defense and rebounding down on the inside down the stretch propelled the Knights to victory.
   "We kept our composure because we knew Happy Valley would be tough toward the end, and their coach does a great job with them so we had to fight for it," said Gray girls coach Sam Haren.
   The Knights streaked out to a 32-24 advantage halfway through the third quarter, when Caroline Deakins scored off the break.
   Hannah Banks responded for the Warriors at the end of the period by scoring two field goals in the last minute to bring Happy Valley back within four points.
   Happy Valley acquired its first lead of the game since early in the contest, when Samantha Canter scored off a rebound with 3:32 left.
   "We could have folded the tents, but we came back and actually got the lead at one point, but the girls played hard and that's all you can ask for," said Happy Valley girls coach Dana Hill.
   In the final minute of action, Gray's defense achieved a steal and basket from Holly Nickels to grab a four-point lead with 24 seconds to go.
   Chelsi Whitlock drained a three-pointer with 5.5 seconds left to pull the Warriors within one point, but a rebound from Brittani Herron with the basket and foul off a missed free throw denied Happy Valley any chance of a comeback.
   "We made some crucial mistakes toward the end, but the ball bounces your way sometimes and then sometimes it don't," said Hill.
   Nickels was named the tournament's MVP, leading the Knights with 12 points, while Banks and Canter both poured in 13 scores for the Warriors.