Rangers come up short against Johnson County

By Travis Brown

   The Unaka Rangers pride themselves as holding one of the most feared homecourt advantages in the area. Despite the home hardwood, the Johnson County Longhorns managed to garner a well-deserved 63-57 win at Snavely Gym Thursday night.
   Happy with his team's effort, Longhorn coach Austin Atwood dished out praise for his basketball team.
   "We played extremely hard against them," Atwood said. "We played physical and rebounded well."
   Rebounding would be a big key as the game progressed, but the Rangers held the early advantage, and in the first period the game was almost over before it began.
   Up against a double-digit lead, Longhorn standout Matt Cornett was forced to sit with foul trouble. With an opportunity to deliver a crushing blow, Unaka relaxed and turned down the intensity.
   The adrenaline plunge has been a problem for the Rangers this season according to head coach Donald Ensor.
   "We've done that all season," Ensor said. "We had them on their heels and we stopped pushing."
   Due to the drop in effort, Unaka only held a 13-11 advantage heading into the second period. With the momentum in flux, the Longhorns took the lead with 6:37 remaining on a foul line jumper by Tommy Short.
   Unaka regained the lead with buckets by Josh Jones, but Johnson County retook the lead and began move to halftime ahead by a 25-22 advantage.
   The second half saw both teams undergo streaky play, as teams traded scoring runs. With 4:55 to go in the third period the score stood 29-26 Longhorns.
   For the greater part of the period that three-point advantage would stay in place, as Johnson County led 39-36 going into the fourth.
   The Rangers would tie the contest from the outset of the final stanza with a big three-point basket from Derek Cline. Unaka began to lag, and midway through the fourth, the Longhorns ran the lead out to six.
   On the following possession, Rusty Chambers warmed up, hitting a big three-point basket to stop the bleeding and pull to within three points once again.
   Down the stretch the foul shooting by the Longhorns was simply too much for the Rangers to overcome. Despite another pair of clutch threes by Chambers, Unaka suffered a 6-point senior night defeat.
   For Ensor, the game personified the problems that must be solved in order to see tournament success.
   "We are physically ready to play," Ensor said. "But mentally we are too easily distracted, and that comes with our youth."
   For Atwood, the game represents a confidence boost heading into the postseason.
   "This is a tough place to play," Atwood said. "Tonight was a playoff atmosphere, this will be an uplift heading into the tournament."
   Cornett was tops for the 'Horns with 19 points, followed by Judd Shoun with 16 and Michael Lipford, who tallied 10.
   Chambers scored a game-high 23 for the Rangers. Cline and Jones tallied 11 apiece.
   Lady Rangers 82
   Lady Longhorns 43
   In the girls matchup the struggling Lady Longhorns took a youthful club into the lion's den, and was dealt a crushing 82-43 defeat at the hands of a talented Unaka team.
   Despite the 39-point victory, not every aspect of the game turned out roses for the Rangers as senior standout Heather Taylor was injured with 56 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
   With the shooter out of the lineup, the Lady Rangers never showed signs of slowing, due to the large amount of bench participation that has characterized their season.
   Head coach Ken Chambers remains proud of his depth and believes it has played a large role in the Lady Ranger's recent success.
   "Our bench has played well," Chambers said. "I think the last two and a half weeks we have played better than we have all year."
   Moving out to a commanding 20-9 lead at the end of the first period, the issue was not in question for Johnson County. Effort and hustle were simply not enough to counter the 24-point effort from Unaka's Julie Roberson.
   Solid play from Jessica Osborne and Renee Ensor helped maintain pressure on the Lady Longhorn offense all evening, pressure that allowed only four field goals in the first three quarters.
   The third quarter would end all hopes for the Lady Longhorns, as Roberson's eight consecutive points at the start of the half put the game out of reach for Johnson County.
   Leading by 41 going to the fourth quarter, the Lady Rangers would cruise to a 39-point win.
   Chambers hopes the win will vault his team into high spirits going into next week.
   "There is a time to start playing well," Chambers said. "That time is now, and we are playing good."
   Roberson led the way for Unaka, netting 24 points. Kelly Taylor contributed 12.
   Courtney Shaw pitched in 14 points for Johnson County. Nikki Davidson added 10.