Lady Rangers stuff Indians

Take first regional title since '84

By Kim Richardson
Star Correspondent

   SNEEDVILLE--When the horn sounded to end the first quarter of the Region 1-A final between the visiting Unaka Lady Rangers and the Hancock County Lady Indians, there was plenty cause for concern.
   But what was most surprising was the feelings of Coach Harold Ramsey in retrospecting the game.
   Unaka had gotten off to an awful start, but managed to close the margin to 13 points, 23-10 after one.
   "We were worried at first," said Unaka standout and all-tournament selection Coty Townsend after the Lady Rangers' 55-44 victory. "We were concerned, but more about ourselves than about the Indians. We hadn't played well at all, but we knew that if we had a letdown it was over."
   Unaka guard Renee Ensor admitted to a being a bit nervous, saying: "We were playing on their home court, we were behind by 13 points; yes I'll admit I was nervous and yes a little worried."
   But from the other perspective, that of Ramsey, things didn't look so cozy, in spite of the huge margin his players had built after one quarter.
   "They are a very good team," Coach Ramsey said, "and tonight we learned what a deep team they are. I tried to keep our girls focused, under control. We didn't want to get into a shootout with them. They have more players they can bring in. We really can't go very deep into our bench at all."
   Unaka played eight players for significant amounts of time, without weakening their team, while Coach Ramsey was essentially limited to playing six -- and that was the most obvious difference.
   "They're big and have those two guards who can both fly and hit the three," Coach Ramsey said. "Plus they played four or five girls in the box, all of which are taller and bigger than our tallest player."
   Coach Ramsey was of course referring to Julie Roberson at 6-2, Daniel Ensor, 5-10; Coty Townsend, 5-9; and Tiffany Babb at 5-11; plus Lacy Gouge has developed into a good rebounder and defender underneath.
   Kenneth Chambers, head coach of the Lady Ranges, felt that Unaka's depth was a big factor, and that: "We didn't panic. They could do no wrong at first and we couldn't seem to do anything right. Tiffany stepped in when Julie got those two quick fouls and later Coty was rebounding and defending at another level."
   It's been like that all season for the Lady Rangers. It's not at all unusual to have a different player lead Unaka in scoring, rebounding, or both in several consecutive games.
   In Wednesday's semifinal win over Jellico, it was Townsend with 18 points. In the final it was Danielle Ensor with 14 points.
   But more impressive is the way the individual Lady Rangers are starting to understand their roles come gametime.
   "Julie got in foul trouble early and I needed to bring it," said Tiffany Babb, who stepped in admirably for the Rangers in the championship game. "We have to play team ball, because when we're all on the same page we can be a pretty good team."
   Ramsey had scouted the Unaka and was well aware of the Rangers multi-faceted offense.
   "We knew we couldn't sag to much on their post players and still expect to shut down number 34 (Osborne) and 11 (Ensor)," he said. "Those guards can go off on you at any time in the game."
   Coach Ramsey continued: "We generally do a good job of helping each other out on defense, but I just didn't think we could recover as well as Unaka reverses the ball.
   Unaka started out slow and cold at both ends of the court, and it appeared that the Rangers were content to wait until the threes started to drop as Renee Ensor and Jessica Osborne drew only iron throughout the first.
   "We were determined to get the ball inside more," said Gouge. "We just talked about playing our game, inside-out basketball."
   Jessica Osborne, last week's district tournament MVP was "simply proud."
   "We knew we would have to work very hard, them being a top ten team," she said. "I'm so proud of my teammates, and I'm proud that we'll be playing the sub-state on Stoney Creek.
   Julie Roberson was chosen the tournament MVP, but deferred to her teammates as the key to the Rangers' championship run.
   "Tiffany and Lacey both stepped up under a lot of pressure tonight," she said. "We were behind early, and things weren't looking so good, but they came to play and that's what teamwork is all about."
   Gouge credited Danielle Ensor's hard work under the basket as a big difference maker.
   "She kept working and working," said Gouge. "That's the way Danielle plays. She's quiet, but come gametime she goes right to work. I think she's had a great tournament."
   Unaka can now turn its attention to the Wartburg Bulldogs, 52-51 losers to the Cosby Eagles Thursday night, to who will invade Snavely Gymnasium Saturday night.
   Coach Chambers summed up the regionals just as he was speaking of the entire season.
   "We can be a good team, a special team," said Chambers. "When we buy into the team concept, when we realize what we're in the game for, like we did tonight, then we can play some pretty good basketball."
   Unaka captured its second-ever regional title. The other came in 1984.
   Cloudland's Heather Banner was chosen to the all-tournament team along with Unaka's Osborne and Townsend, North Greene's Chelsea Wright, University High's Diana Bowens, Ashley Hughes from Jellico, Erica Collins of Hancock County and Katie Ritter from Washburn; and of course MVP Roberson, who joined the 1,000th point club in round one earlier this week.