Lady Rangers drop Cougars

By Marvin Birchfield

   The Lady Rangers caught fire from the outside on Monday night as they slipped past Sullivan Central in a 59-53 final at Snavely Gym.
   It was raining threes down on the Cougar defense in the second period, with Heather Taylor connecting from way out.
   "I've been practicing on my shot and was feeling it, but I think our team is really coming together now and we're at our peak," said Taylor after a 14-point performance.
   Central battled its way to an 11-11 tie in the first period after Beth Shelton knocked down a three along with a bucket inside.
   Coty Townsend hit a three from beyond the arch for the Rangers, who got a couple of baskets on the inside by Julie Roberson.
   Unaka exploded in the second quarter as Taylor found her rhythm from outside to knock down three 3-point goals and give the Rangers a 23-15 lead with 5:30 left in the half.
   "I knew Central was a good team and we didn't really know what to expect since we hadn't played them in a couple of years, but I thought we all played as a team tonight," said Taylor.
   Danielle Ensor attacked the boards strong for Unaka and rattled off six straight points to push the advantage to 13 points.
   "We really wanted to go inside but I told them when they feel like they can make it, then shoot it," said Unaka girls coach Kenneth Chambers, whose team improved to 21-6.
   The Rangers enjoyed a 31-22 lead at halftime, but the Cougars came out strong to cut the deficit in half with three baskets coming from Ashli Brown to start the third period.
   "We played well, but Central fought back and I knew they would. They're tough from 15-foot out, and we switch the defense in the first half and went back to it in the second half and finally stopped them," said Chambers.
   Taylor nailed her fourth three-point goal of the game, but a shot down-low from Julie LeSueur brought Central within two points with five minutes left in the third.
   "They have good shooters, and they utilize their offense well to get that. Their coach does an excellent job of getting the looks," said Sullivan Central coach Gary Surcey.
   Unaka captured the last six points of the quarter, with Renee Ensor making a drive down the middle to stretch the lead back to eight heading into the final period.
   The Cougars rallied in the fourth quarter to pull within two points with 2:54 left in the contest, after Shelton hit a three and Kristi Moody sank two freethrows.
   Jessica Osborne popped a long three for the Rangers to give them a little breathing room, but a jumper from Kayla Vaughn and three-point shot off the glass by Shelton tie the game with two minutes left to play.
   "It was a good game until they hit all them threes in the second half, but I'm proud of my girls coming back and doing a good job on defense," said Surcey.
   Roberson responded for Unaka down low on its next possession by hitting the basket and drawing the foul, which gave the advantage back to the Rangers.
   Not being unable to convert on offense, the Cougars were forced to foul in the final minute with Unaka connecting on four straight free throws, after previously hitting just 5-13 from the charity stripe.
   Roberson and Osborne added 12 and 11 points, respectively, for Unaka. Shelton, with 17 points, and Moody, 15, topped the Lady Cougars.
   Sullivan Central 72
   Unaka 67
   It was a game of two different halves in the Unaka and Sullivan Central match-up, as the Cougars came from behind to beat the Rangers.
   The Cougars nearly witnessed their fifth loss of the season, but a second-half flurry brought them from 13 points down to score the hard-earned victory.
   "They came out in the first half and shot the ball extremely well, but in the second half I thought we stepped up on defense and played much better," said Sullivan Central coach Tony Vaughn.
   Unaka jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the first three minutes of the contest by ringing in three three-point goals, which were scored by Cody Collins, Rusty Chambers and Derek Cline.
   "We've been working on our outside shooting in practice and it's paying off, but we need to learn how to take care of the ball and make better passes," said Collins.
   Central stormed back to tie the game at 16-16 after John LeSueur hit a basket down low and drew a foul for a three-point play.
   Chambers headed down the court on the inbounds pass, where he took it to the hole to give Unaka an 18-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
   The Rangers came out to dominate the second period as they built their advantage to 14 points with 1:56 left in the half, after Collins sank two free-throws.
   "In the first half I felt like we did everything we could do wrong, but I thought in the second half it was totally the opposite of how we played," said Vaughn.
   A three-point goal by Josh Arnold and a basket off a drive inside from Chambers gave the Rangers a 41-28 lead at intermission.
   Unaka's defense was able to hold LeSueur to seven points in the first half, but the senior cut loose in the third and fourth period to pour in 25 points of his game-high 32.
   The Rangers managed to hold their advantage halfway through the third period, after a drive inside the paint from Collins gave them a 48-34 lead.
   But the Cougars came alive from that point on to outscore Unaka 20-5 in the remainder of the period, grabbing first lead of the contest.
   "We're going to have to learn how valuable the basketball really is, and I think we lose focus throughout the game and it causes us to make mistakes," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor.
   Turnovers from the Rangers killed them, as Daniel Skelton converted a lay-up off a steal and Matt Dunford made a pick and took it the length of the court for the go-ahead.
   "We wanted to come out and play hard. We gave up a lot of easy buckets in the first half, so we really bared down on it," said Skelton.
   The Rangers trailed 54-53 to start the fourth quarter and were down by only two points with 2:22 left, but a three-point goal by Chris Martin and basket from LeSueur off a steal ended Unaka's chances of victory.
   "There's no moral victories here," Ensor said. "We've played hard and that's not been a question, but we can't keep making the same mental errors if we're going down the road."