Lady Rangers punch ticket to final eight

By Tim Chambers
STAR CORRESPONDENT
tchambers@starhq.com

   The Bee Gee's sang the song "You should be dancing" back in the mid-seventies about the time five-on-five girls' basketball debuted in Carter County. Lady Ranger basketball fans have been singing the same tune for nearly three decades, and now they can move on to a new song.
   Led by the inside-outside combination of Renee Ensor, Jessica Osborne and Julie Roberson, the Rangers earned a trip to Murfreesboro for the Class A state tournament by knocking off Wartburg Central 54-51 before an overflow substate crowd at Snavely Gymnasium Saturday night.
   "This is the greatest feeling I've ever had," said Osborne. "Coach had a good game plan and we stuck to it. We beat a good team."
   Unaka jumped on top 3-0 on free throws by Roberson and Danielle Ensor, but the Bulldogs answered behind two jumpers from Amber Jeffers and Ashley Howard to claim a 4-3 advantage. Back came the Rangers, though, with Renee Ensor knocking down a deuce to reclaim the lead for Unaka at 6-5.
   After Wartburg got a nice hoop from Ginger McGee, the Rangers answered on their next possession when Renee Ensor found Osborne free for a layin to give Unaka a 7-6 advantage.
   The Bulldogs responded going on a 6-2 run pushing their lead at 12-9. With :05 remaining in the quarter, Megan Johnson brought the partisan crowd to its feet by drilling a 25-footer, tying the score at 12 after one.
   "I knew they would try and shut down Jessica (Osborne) so I was trying to step up and do my part," said Johnson. "The crowd was totally awesome tonight."
   Unaka regained the lead 15-14 when Osborne knifed her way inside for an offensive rebound and putback that seemed to spark the Ranger offense. If that were not enough, Osborne added a 3-point bomb from deep off the wing for an 18-14 lead.
   After two Townsend free throws, which upped the lead at six, Wartburg ran off six unanswered points, capped off by a three-point play from Jeffers, tying the score at 20.
   Tiffany Babb and Howard traded baskets before Howard's off-balanced jumper gave the 'Dogs a 24-22 lead. Townsend tied the score on a beautiful offensive rebound and putback.
   Wartburg silenced the Ranger faithful going on a 6-0 run to take a 30-24 advantage. Renee Ensor gave Unaka momentum at the close of the period, nailing a runner at the buzzer to close within four.
   "I knew we had to step it up in the second half," said Renee Ensor. "I had never played before a crowd like that."
   Unaka came out in the third period slicker than a mole's rear when Roberson responded with a three-point play, cutting the lead to one at 30-29. The Rangers regained the lead when Renee Ensor penetrated for two.
   Neither team could muster more than a one-point lead until McGhee's hoop at the 1:35 mark put the 'Dogs up 36-33. Renee Ensor delighted the crowd with a three-ball off the left wing to tie the score at 36.
   The crowd noise woke up the Stoney Creek community when Townsend's 30-footer at the buzzer swished the net, giving Unaka a 39-36 lead after three.
   "Words can't describe how I feel right now," added Townsend. "We played well as a team tonight."
   After sitting out most of the third quarter with three fouls, Howard started fast with four points, giving Wartburg a 40-39 lead. Renee Ensor's trey at the 7:00 mark put Unaka up 42-40.
   Roberson connected on two of her 10 free throws in the game, which was followed by a spinmove and bucket from Babb, giving Unaka a 46-42 cushion.
   "I was getting to the line a lot, so I tried to make them count," said Roberson. "We work hard on them in practice. This win is the greatest feeling ever."
   Wartburg received a severe blow on its next possession when McGee was whistled for her fourth foul, and then was given her fifth by way of a technical. Osborne canned 3 of 4, widening the gap to six at 50-44.
   Roberson was whistled for her fifth foul at the 2:11 mark, but the Rangers were aided by the superb defensive effort of Lacey Gouge and Danielle Ensor, who held Howard scoreless for the remainder of the game.
   "I want to do anything I can to help us win," said Gouge. "This is awesome."
   "We have really worked hard to get to go to the state," added Ensor. "This is a super feeling."
   After a Ranger foul shot, the Bulldogs rallied on two charity tosses and a long trey from Jeffers, slicing the margin to 51-49 with 1:00 remaining. From there, Unaka opened the door for the Bulldogs, missing the back end of two one and one's.
   With Unaka leading 54-51, the Bulldogs misfired on a last desperation three, setting off a melee among the Ranger faithful, with the celebration beginning at mid-court by the student body and players.
   Renee Ensor, Osborne, and Roberson tallied 12 each for the Rangers while Townsend tossed in nine.
   The win was very rewarding for Ranger head coach Kenneth Chambers, whose dad, Frank, after being confined to the hospital for much of the winter, was able to sit by his son and the Ranger bench in a wheelchair for the entire game.
   "It was a big inspiration for me to have mom and dad there by my side," said Chambers. "This was the first time they got to see us play all year."
   "Wartburg had a good team," added Chambers. "They were solid on the defensive end and their inside play really concerned us. We made some adjustments at halftime that helped us in the second half.
   "I am happy for the kids because they have worked so hard to get where they are. I want to thank the fans for being so vocal tonight. It gave our team the boost it needed to win this game."