Fourth-quarter charge

By Tim Chambers

   It was a shot they will be talking about for years down the road, and a game that will stand out maybe as the most memorable ever played at Snavely Gymnasium.
   With the addition of the new seats along with chairs on the baseline, probably the largest crowd to ever witness a basketball game at Unaka High watched the Rangers rally for a 55-52 Class A substate win over Cosby Monday night.
   Unaka's performance included one of the finest defensive efforts ever given in the fourth quarter by a Ranger basketball team.
   Most importantly, it was a game that saw a group of young men from Unaka lay it all on the line and advance to the final eight of the state tournament for the second time in three seasons.
   With :07 left in the game and the scored tied at 52, Rusty Chambers came off a screen from Cody Collins and received a perfect pass from Derek Cline. Chambers launched a three over the outstretched hand of a Cosby defender that hit nothing but the net to send the Ranger crowd into a frenzy and put Unaka in the lead with :03 remaining.
   Cosby called timeout to try a desperation three, but came up empty as Ranger fans stormed onto center court to celebrate the win with Unaka players and coaches.
   "I knew I had to take the shot," said Chambers. "Cody set a good screen, so I just tried to square up and keep my elbow straight. This is one of the greatest feelings that I have ever had. Everyone had a big part in this win, including our fans."
   Cosby opened with a three-point hoop from Kent Black, but Unaka answered with a nice inside move by Chambers, cutting the lead at 3-2. Another three from Black was answered by a long trey from Cline to slice the margin at 6-5.
   Collins drilled a trey off the right wing for an 8-6 Unaka lead, but the Eagles scored six unanswered points to take a 12-8 advantage. Two free throws from Chambers put the score at 12-10 before the Eagles extended the lead to five.
   Cline nailed a three at the 50-second mark, only to see two Hall free throws give Cosby an 18-13 lead after one.
   Cosby extended the margin to 20-13 on a Blakley deuce, but Unaka responded with a three-ball from the corner by Tyler McCann.
   "We knew we had to keep our heads up in the fourth quarter and stick with the game plan," said McCann. "We were able to capitalize off some of their missed shots late in the game."
   Black answered with a three to up the lead at seven, but the Rangers rallied behind two buckets from Chambers and two nifty hoops from Collins to cut the lead at one. A no-look pass from Collins to Josh Jones near the end of the quarter gave Unaka a 24-23 lead at intermission.
   "We didn't feel we had played that well at halftime," stated Collins. "We knew we would have to dig deep down to win. It feels great going back to Murfreesboro."
   After Blakley and Chambers swapped buckets to start the third, Cosby became hotter than a overheated radiator on a hot summer day, with Hall scoring nine consecutive points to push Cosby in front 36-28 at the 4:00 mark. Another three by Black extended the margin at 11 as the Eagle crowd sensed a trip to Murfreesboro.
   Unaka tried to stay close on two knifing baseline drives and buckets from McCann, cutting the margin down at 39-32. Black's fourth trey of the game gave Cosby a 10-point advantage. Holtsclaw and Blakley traded goals in the closing minute of the quarter, giving the Eagles a 46-36 lead after three.
   Unaka rallied behind the overflow crowd as a McCann feed to Holtsclaw for two cut the margin at eight. A nice putback and free throw by Holtsclaw sliced the Cosby advantage down at five, 46-41, at the six-minute mark.
   Cline followed suit, draining a three from the top of the key as the one time 11-point lead shrunk to two at 46-44. After a Holtsclaw free throw, Hall drove the lane for a hoop and a 48-45 Cosby lead.
   Holtsclaw answered again with a beautiful finger-roll, decreasing the Cosby lead to one. Hall's putback gave the Eagles a 50-47 cushion, but Unaka refused to go away.
   A pressure three from Collins knotted the score at 50, then Cosby struck again on a two-pointer by Manning. The Rangers tied the score at 52 on a slick penetrating move and hoop by Collins.
   After a Unaka timeout, the maroon and white turned the defense up on high, forcing a turnover at the 2:03 mark. Unaka went into a weave, stalling the ball for nearly a minute and 50 seconds before taking a timeout with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
   Chambers appeared to come off two screens to get the pass and the rest was history in the makings.
   Chambers led the Rangers with 13, followed by Holtsclaw with 12 while Collins added 10. Cline and McCann tossed in nine each to lead a well-balanced Ranger attack.
   McCann gathered 12 boards to pace Unaka in the rebounding department.
   Black led all scorers with 19, while Hall followed with a 17-point performance.
   "Our defense stepped up and did the job in the fourth quarter," said an exhausted Ranger head coach Donald Ensor. "I honestly believe that the tough schedule we played during the season prepared us for games like tonight.
   "Tyler (McCann) stepped up big tonight with his rebounding and offensive play while Rusty (Holtsclaw) hit some big baskets. I felt Derek (Cline) and Cody (Collins) did a good job taking care of the ball down the stretch.
   "They were fronting and playing behind Rusty in the second half and was not going to let him have the ball but he continues to be patient within our offense. You saw him make a great pass to win the game at the buzzer against University High. Tonight you saw him make a big-time shot.
   "This is just another step toward our goal at the beginning of the season. We won the conference, district, regional and sub-state. We hope to complete our goal."
   Chambers, Collins and McCann all summed up that goal in their closing statements, saying: "We want to bring the gold ball back to Stoney Creek."
   Unaka will play in Murfreesboro Wednesday, March 17 at 2 p.m. CST against Franklin Road Academy.