Rangers scalp Hancock

By Wes Holtsclaw

   HARROGATE -- This Monday night, they're bringing the substate back to Stoney Creek.
   Last night, the Tex Turner Arena witnessed a thriller turned into 'slobberknocker' as the Unaka Rangers (24-10) laid the smackdown on 'The Rock' and his Hancock County Indians (23-8). Unaka captured the Region 1-A tournament championship with a 68-59 victory.
   In what was a tie game going into the second half, the Rangers broke loose in the third quarter behind four treys from Aaron Dugger, Rusty Chambers and Cody Collins, who had two.
   Unaka played defense with the best of them, holding Rocky Nichols to only one first-half point, and stopping Mike Matthews after his six first-quarter points, making him scoreless from then on out.
   It was a complete team effort for the Rangers, who excelled in their trip to Harrogate.
   Said Ranger coach Donald Ensor: "I thought our guys played tenacious in every aspect of the game. The boards, the loose balls, all of it. That was the hardest I have seen any Unaka team play in a long time. It was very refreshing.
   "I'm extremely proud of them. They took the gameplan and stuck to it, and they executed it on the floor and the result is a home substate."
   "It was a great team effort, Ben Cole had a heck of a game, heck of a tournament. Dustin (Collins), Rusty (Chambers), Cody (Collins), the list goes on and on. It was just solid, very solid team play."
   The game was opened up as the fast-paced 'scorefest' that was expected. Hancock got on the board early behind two treys from Josh Fleenor and three buckets from Matthews.
   Unaka bounced back behind a seven-point quarter from Cole, with some hot shots from Dustin Collins and Rusty Chambers. Aaron Dugger nailed a shot at the buzzer to bring Unaka within the 18-16 Hancock lead.
   It was an even battle in the second quarter, but Hancock would be hurting, as Rocky Nichols was moved to the bench early after collecting his third foul.
   Dugger, Cole, and Dustin Collins would do all that it took to bring the game to the front, but Josh Fleenor kept his streak going, nailing two more treys to tie the game up at 28 apiece.
   Unaka dominated all aspects of the game defensively, garnering more rebounds and takeaways than Hancock County.
   "We did pretty well," said Rusty Chambers. "Rebounding was the key in this one. We knew if we got the boards, we would win, and that's what we did."
   Unaka would then explode in the third quarter, taking a quick 10-point lead on the Indians.
   Hancock tried to regain some momentum in the fourth quarter behind Nichols and Jonah Belcher, closing within four points early in the period.
   But Unaka drove back, as Dugger proved why he was the Region's MVP, scoring 11 of his 24 points to lead Unaka to the big 68-59 win.
   "We came out and wanted to set the tone early," said Dugger. "We knew that they were going to come ready, since it was the regional championship. We really wanted to pack it in, and make their guards beat us, because we didn't really think the could.
   "The main key was keeping Matthews and Nichols down, and to gain the boards, which really helped us. Cody and Rusty had a big shooting night, and Cole had one of his nights like always. It carried us."
   Ben Cole also played a major role in the Ranger victory, dropping 17 points along with his outstanding defensive role.
   Said Cole: "I thought we did a real good job stopping their posts inside, and rebounding. Like I said last night, we wanted to bring the substate back to the creek and our fans. We had a lot of support down here, and that's who we want to bring it out for."
   Unaka was also led in double digits by Chambers, who had 10. Josh Fleenor led the Indians with his 16 points, which all came in the first half.
   Despite missing the majority of the first half, Nichols ended up with 15 points for Hancock County, while Matthews, the Tennessee Tech signee was trimmed down to six points.
   Unaka will host substate action this Monday night, also at an undetermined location, that will be decided Friday morning against the winner of tonight's Cosby/Sunbright matchup.
   Either way, Stoney Creek will be ready for their first home substate game since the 66-61 loss to Cosby on March 9, 1998 to a packed Snavely Gymnasium crowd.
   If last night's game was anything like Star Wars, the force is with Unaka.