Warriors dispatch Longhorns

By Marvin Birchfield

   Some things change, yet sometimes they stay the same. The latter was the case with Happy Valley and Johnson County on Friday night.
   A close contest between the Warriors and Longhorns that took place in early January ended with Happy Valley winning 34-32.
   It wasn't near the offensive struggle for Happy Valley this time around, but a hard-fought 59-54 victory by the Warriors wasn't decided until the final minute of action.
   The Warriors got out of the stables first with a lay-up by Tim Whaley off the opening tip and a three-point basket from Todd Caldwell.
   "Up there they got us into playing slowdown ball, and I think we did a little bit better tonight in pushing the ball and creating a more up-tempo game," said Caldwell.
   Caldwell led the Warriors in scoring with 16 points, hitting two three-point goals, while Whaley finished with 13 points and seven boards.
   "I try to come out and knock down some big shots to start off with, and that always helps set up the guys down low," said Caldwell.
   All of Johnson County's points in the first period came from Judd Shoun and Jessee Jenkins, who hit a field goal and three-point shot apiece.
   Happy Valley's defensive pressure in the first half led to several breakaway opportunities, as Andrew Bowman hit Chris Rutledge on stride to give the Warriors a 13-5 lead with 4:21 left in quarter one.
   The Warriors led 18-10 after the first period of play, and with a fresh group of five to start the second, Happy Valley continued to hold the advantage.
   "We didn't find the shooter right away and Happy Valley hit all seven of their first seven shots," said Johnson County coach Austin Atwood. "Our guards are young and we committed a few too many turnovers. Charlie does a good job putting on the pressure."
   A pass from John Bulla to Ryan Toney down the lane resulted in a bucket, putting it at 25-18 with four and a half minutes left.
   Before the half ended though, the Longhorns made a rally to cut the deficit to one-point heading to the locker room.
   "They were a scrappy bunch, and this was just a good, sound ballgame all the way around," said Happy Valley coach Charlie Bayless. "They rebounded the ball well against us and that's what kept them in the game."
   Johnson County grabbed its first lead of the night to start the second half when Justin Genaille converted a basket inside.
   The game's momentum swung back and forth through the first five minutes until Happy Valley took a six-point lead with 2:04 left when Rutledge knocked down a three-pointer.
   The Warriors led 43-39 at the end of the third period, and after a steal from Chris McCloud, McCloud went to the free-throw line and trimmed the advantage to 46-45 with six minutes left in regulation.
   Johnson County kept it close but could never quite get over the hump in the final minutes.
   "Our boys never quit, but the thing is we just need to learn how to play a little bit better," said Atwood. "I was pleased with how we played tonight, but yet we have to find a way to get ourselves over that hump."
   A three-point goal from Shoun made it 50-48 with the Longhorns trailing, but a 6-0 run from Happy Valley opened up a comfortable advantage with under two minutes left.
   Free throws down the stretch for the Warriors enabled them to hold onto the victory, as Happy Valley still remains tied for third place in the Watauga Conference behind Volunteer and Sullivan Central.
   "We made our foul shots at the end and that really helped out, but any of these teams in our conference are capable of beating one another on any night," said Bayless.