Lady Rangers top Central; Cougars  fend off Rangers

By Tim Chambers

   They say that good teams find a way to win, and thus was the case with the Lady Rangers Monday night against Sullivan Central. Led by a stellar defensive performance from Coty Townsend, the Rangers hung on for a 41-37 win inside the Cougar Den.
   "We've been giving up too many points here lately," stated Townsend. "I was trying to step it up on the defensive end. My teammates played well on the defensive end tonight."
   Julie Roberson put the Rangers up 4-0 on a two free throws and a putback, then Unaka went nearly seven minutes without scoring while the Cougars were enjoying a 12-0 run led by Sarah and Catie Mural, along with a long three by Beth Shelton.
   After a Julie LeSueur jumper, Unaka responded with a trey from Lacey Gouge and a jumper from Townsend to close within three at 12-9.
   Central struck first in the second quarter on a three by Shelton, but Unaka answered with jumper from Danielle Ensor to close the gap to four. After a LeSueur layin, Unaka turned to Townsend, who connected from the baseline to cut the Cougar lead to 17-14 at the 4:20 mark.
   A three-point play from April Burke gave Central a 22-14 lead until Tiffany Babb's three-point play with :07 remaining cut the margin back to five at intermission.
   Unaka came to life in the third period, thanks to a nice putback from Roberson and a steal and layup by Renee Ensor to slice the lead to one at 22-21.
   Danielle Ensor gave Unaka its first lead since early in the first period, completing a dazzling three-point play for a 24-22 lead.
   The Ranger defense hunkered down and held Central scoreless for over five minutes in the third period. Meanwhile, a three-ball from the corner by Gouge along with a layin by Renee Ensor gave Unaka a 30-27 lead heading into the final frame.
   Roberson opened the fourth just like the third with a putback, while a beautiful pass from Renee Ensor to Babb gave Unaka a six-point cushion. Central tied the score at 34 on hoops from Shelton and the Munal sisters while Unaka followed suit with a nice runner from Danielle Ensor to retake the lead.
   From here it was the defense of Townsend that sparked the maroon as the junior forward accounted for three free throws, three steals and knocked away two loose balls in the last two minutes of the game to seal the win for the Lady Rangers.
   Danielle Ensor and Roberson led the Rangers with eight each while Townsend tossed in seven while Gouge added six.
   Shelton, Vaughn and Catie Munal led Central with eight points each.
   "We struggle on the offensive end," said Unaka head coach Kenneth Chambers. "Give credit to Coach (Gary) Surcey and the Central defense. They played well. They pretty much controlled the tempo of the game."
   "I thought Coty (Townsend) was the difference on defense. She made some big plays down the stretch."
   Sullivan Central 56
   Unaka 49
   In the nightcap, Unaka fought hard against the much taller Cougars, but in the end came up short after going cold in the final two minutes. The first quarter was fast paced, with both teams pushing the ball up and down the floor.
   Derek Cline gave Unaka a 2-0 lead but Central responded with two quick hoops to go up 4-2. Tyler McCann tried to keep the Rangers close with a nice layin, but Central was pounding the ball inside, with Zack Frye doing most of the damage.
   Meanwhile, Unaka heated up behind the three-point shooting of McCann and Cody Collins to take a 15-14 lead at the 2:00 mark.
   Collins connected on a runner to give Unaka a 17-16 lead, but Joe Brown would go downtown from 30 feet at the buzzer, giving the Cougars a 19-17 advantage.
   After a Dunford free throw, Rusty Holtsclaw answered with a bankshot, but the Cougars got hot as Tyler Harvey connected for three, followed by a two from Crain to up the lead to six.
   Josh Jones responded with a jumper while McCann added a three-point play to cut the lead to three. A nice drive and bucket from Mike Walsh helped Unaka stay within five at the half at 39-34.
   Central extended the lead to 43-34 before two Chase Reeves free throws cut the lead to 43-36. After attempting one shot from the field and being saddled with foul trouble in the first half, Rusty Chambers sparked the Ranger offense with six points in the quarter, including a kiss off the glass in the closing seconds to cut the lead to 45-44 heading into the last quarter.
   Unaka's offense went south in the fourth quarter, scoring only five points in the period. After a bucket from Jones to cut the lead back at one, Central would go up by seven at 53-46.
   Chambers responded with a long three to cut the lead to four at 53-49. Unaka came up empty on its next four possessions, misfiring on three outside shots while having one rejected.
   Central held the ball the final 1:21 as Unaka refused to foul until the 10-second mark, giving the Cougars a hard-fought, seven-point margin.
   Chambers and McCann, with nine each, led the Rangers, while Collins added eight.
   "We had every opportunity in the world in the fourth quarter but couldn't knock down a shot in the last two minutes," said Unaka head coach Donald Ensor. "We played hard on the defensive side and got the stops but failed to convert."
   Unaka will be at home tonight against the Happy Valley Warriors, pitting the champions of the Watauga Valley against the Watauga Conference co-champs.