Rangers never trail in victory over Hancock

By Tim Chambers

   SNEEDVILLE--Hancock County lies nearly two hours away from Unaka High School. Yet the town of Sneedville was invaded by a sea of maroon and white Thursday night.
   The Hancock County Indians expected to see a full house of blue and gold, but what they found was a group of hungry Rangers wanting to host the sub-state on Stoney Creek.
   With over half the gym full of Ranger fans, Unaka took a 2-0 lead and never looked back, knocking off the Indians to win the Region 1-A Championship, 57-48.
   Unaka jumped on top 4-0 off a bank shot by Josh Jones and a acrobatic scoop shot from Cody Collins. The Rangers played long ball to gain a 10-2 lead, with Derek Cline and Collins knocking down treys.
   "I was looking to score because they were packing it in tight on Rusty, Delbert and Jones," stated Cline. "I wanted to help my team bring the sub-state back to Stoney Creek."
   A three-point play by Rusty Holtsclaw extended the lead at 13-2 with 4:40 remaining in the quarter. Hancock got two from Garrett Johnson, whose eight first-quarter points kept Hancock within striking distance.
   Sophomore standout Josh Lowe came off the bench and played superb, gathering a missed shot and putting it back in for a 15-4 Ranger advantage. Hancock got within two at 15-13, but a Jones hoop near the end of the quarter kept Unaka in front 17-15 after one.
   "This feels wonderful," stated Jones. "We are all good friends and this is like one big happy family. We simply play as a team."
   The Rangers opened the second with a long three by Cline for a 20-15 advantage. A nice drive and layup off a steal by Collins pushed the advantage at 23-17 at the 6:00 mark. Collins made his presence felt the entire night with a stellar all-around game.
   Although only 5-7, his heart and hustle was that of a he-man as the little giant made key steals and disrupted the Hancock County offense the entire evening.
   "I'm not concerned about individual awards," stated Collins. "Winning as a team is all that matters."
   Hancock got within six but Unaka kept pounding as Chambers drove the land for his first two, giving Unaka an eight-point lead. After Jonah Belcher cut the lead to four, Unaka got a beautiful drive and score from Tyler McCann, which resulted in a six-point lead at the half.
   "It seems someone different is stepping up all the time," said McCann. "We wanted to bring the sub-state back to Stoney Creek."
   Unaka opened the third the same as the first, with Jones knocking down two, followed by a trifecta from Cline, giving Unaka a 35-26 advantage. After a Holt tip-in, Chambers drove and found Jones alone for two, followed by a halfcourt feed from Collins to Chambers that resulted in a three-point play and an 11-point advantage.
   Hancock cut the margin to seven, but another trey by Cline his fourth on the evening gave the Rangers a 10-point advantage. Hancock then managed a 5-0 run, cutting the lead to 43-38 after three.
   The Rangers delivered the knockout punch in the fourth as Chambers racked up 10 points in the quarter while being named as the tournament's most valuable player.
   "I play for the name on the front of my jersey -- Unaka" said Chambers. "I'll do whatever it takes to win, regardless if it's score, pass or rebound."
   After a Chambers bucket, McCann found Jones wide open with a splendid pass to push the lead at eight. Chambers connected on a drive to give Unaka a 10-point advantage.
   Collins delivered another one of his game-high nine assists by way of Chambers, who converted for a three-point play and a 10-point cushion at 52-42. A Belcher three sliced the lead to seven, but a Cline no-look pass to Jones for two brought the Ranger faithful to their feet with a nine-point lead.
   Chambers converted three foul shots down the stretch, giving Unaka a nine-point win. The Rangers will play host to the sub-state for the second time in three years.
   This time it will be played in the friendly confines of Snavely Gymnasium instead of Happy Valley as TSSAA requires only a 1,000 seating capacity for Class A sub-state games.
   Chambers led the Rangers with 15 points, followed by Cline and Jones with 12 each. Collins added eight points, six steals and five rebounds, and was responsible for knocking away nine balls from behind off the Unaka press.
   McCann gathered 10 rebounds to lead that department while Jones cashed in on six. Chambers dished out eight assist while collecting seven boards.
   "Cody (Collins) had a solid game," stated Unaka head coach Donald Ensor. "We knew we had to pressure them in the backcourt, and for 32 minutes we had to run them down."
   "Rusty stepped up and played well in the second half. He's played against a diamond and one, triangle and two, but that's not going to stop. He's worked hard with the coaches and continues to be patient. Tyler McCann plays much bigger than his size.
   "We came into a hostile place and won the regional against a team that is rich in tradition. This team bowed their necks and laid it all on the line."
   "At Unaka the regional title is another step toward our goal," Ensor added. "We are proud to be playing the sub-state in front of our home folks at Unaka. We want to be in the state tournament."
   "Too many weapons," stated Hancock County coach Clark Powers. "You can tell they are well-coached and play as a team." "We were happy being in the position we were in.
   "Those senior players (Chambers, Collins, Jones) make things happen. It's an established program that is well-coached."