Unaka bumped by Hancock Co.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   Lay-ups, free throws and rebounds.
   Those were three things that plagued the Unaka Rangers throughout their contest with Hancock County Wednesday night.
   The Rangers fought hard the entire contest and made several runs toward the win, but just as they reached the pinnacle -- something small would prevent them from pushing it farther.
   The Indians took advantage of Unaka's problems behind a 29-point game from 'The Rock' Rocky Nichols and squeezed their way into the 1-A Regional title game with a 62-58 victory at Milligan College.
   "It's the regional semifinals and those little things have to be done," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor. "I don't doubt that we fought and played hard because we did. It just falls back on the fundamentals."
   Unaka battled hard in the first period taking a 17-15 lead after some solid inside work from Josh Jones and Rusty Chambers. Nichols showed up and the game swung to the opposite end of the court.
   Nichols went on a stretch of buckets to pull Hancock to a strong lead with his 18-points in the first half. Cody Collins and Rusty Holtsclaw did a good job of cutting the score back for Unaka, but Hancock escaped with a 27-25 lead after the first half.
   "We knew we could physically match up with him," Ensor said of Nichols. "He was competitive. We've known him since his freshman year and these two schools have a lot of history. Everytime we battled back within a point, something weird happened."
   Said Hancock's Nichols: "I got off slow the other day and when I get out to a good start, it opens everyone up. So we like to get those things going."
   Unaka missed a lot of breaks early in the third period, but managed to keep it close with buckets from Jones and Holtsclaw. Josh Hurd and Nichols put the points up for the Indians as they took a nine point lead on Unaka early and they would hold onto it going into the fourth quarter.
   Unaka showed a lot of heart in the fourth quarter with big plays from Collins, Chambers and Chris Arnold pulling the Rangers back within two. However, Nichols kept Hancock out in front despite the comeback efforts.
   Unaka got within one point two more times in the period, but free throws ultimately made the save for Hancock as they took the victory.
   "Tomorrow's real important," Nichols said. "We want to get that substate game at home. We went last year and it's hard to win on the road. Everybody's pumped and ready to come out tomorrow."
   Chambers (20 points), Collins (11 points) and Holtsclaw (10 points) all had double-digit games for Unaka to go along with Nichols' game.
   It was a tough end to a strong rebuilding year for Unaka, which only had one senior this season in Arnold.
   "(Coach Ensor) did a great job playing us a tough schedule and pushing us through the season," said Arnold. "All the young kids on the team gave us everything they had this year and that's all you can ask for."
   Said Ensor: "Chris Arnold, I can't say enough about him. We basically surrounded him with our JV team and he led us. They overcome what I thought they could do and I'm proud of our senior."
   Hancock moves on to play University High in the finals tonight at 8.
   University High 67
   Washburn 46
   The Junior Bucs and the Pirates battled throughout the first few minutes of the contest, but the Bucs rallied to earn a substate berth and advance to the regional finals with a 67-46 win.
   University High got solid play from Matt Tillman (11 points) and John Tillman (11 points). The Junior Bucs also had three players with nine apiece.
   Josh Helton led Washburn with 12 points.