Lady Rangers' debut in state tournament a learning experience

By Tim Chambers
STAR CORRESPONDENT
tchambers@starhq.com

   MURFREESBORO--The highs and lows of high school basketball. Saturday night at Snavely Gymnasium, the Unaka girls were on top of the world after their sub-state win against Wartburg Central.
   Wednesday afternoon at The Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, the Lady Rangers saw their most successful basketball season come to a close.
   Tying a state tournament record for the most three-pointers made in a game, the Clarkrange Lady Buffaloes trampled past the Lady Rangers 62-34, advancing to the semifinals of the TSSAA Class A Girls State Tournament.
   The Buffaloes shot an amazing 10 of 20 from behind the arc that left the Ranger crowd totally stunned.
   "Sometimes you just have to throw scouting reports out the window," said Unaka head coach Kenneth Chambers. "Two of the girls didn't score in the sub-state game, yet they come into a game like this and shoot 8-of-11 combined today.
   "We played well early, but foul trouble, turnovers and poor shot selection hurt us in the second period."
   The game was scoreless for nearly four minutes in the first quarter until Jordan Ramsey drained a three to give the Buffaloes a 3-0 lead at the 4:23 mark.
   Unaka responded on a bucket by Julie Roberson and appeared ready to blow the game wide open. Renee Ensor's three ball from deep in the corner followed by a Jessica Osborne steal and layin gave the Rangers a 7-3 advantage.
   Unaka kept applying pressure, which resulted in a Renee drive and layin for a 9-3 lead. Clarkrange found its offense by way of Keri Jones, whose three off the wing cut the margin at 9-6.
   "It was our first time down here and we didn't know what to expect," said Renee Ensor. "We want to work hard to get back her next season. We played a very good team."
   A Miranda Cravens steal and layup cut the lead to one, but Osborne answered with a nice spinmove at the foul line that gave Unaka a 11-8 lead. Miss Basketball Finalist Michelle Snow showed her talents with a nice post move and score, cutting the lead once more at one.
   But Unaka wouldn't budge as Tiffany Babb's bank shot pushed the margin back at 13-10. Disaster struck in the closing minute of the first quarter, with Snow accounting for a three-point play tying the score at 13.
   Upchurch's deep three from downtown Murfreesboro gave Clarkrange a 16-13 margin after one.
   After sitting out most of the first quarter with two fouls, Roberson picked up her third at the 7:38 mark, and the Buffaloes took advantage of her absence. Five points from Osborne, including a long three, cut a seven-point margin down to 20-18 at the 6:30 mark.
   The Lady Rangers failed to score for the remainder of the half while Clarkrange racked up 10 points on two treys by Upchruch and Jones along with two hoops from Snow for a 30-18 halftime lead.
   Unaka continued its frigid shooting woes in the third stanza, going scoreless until Roberson hit two free throws at the 4:55 mark to cut the Buffalo margin down at 33-20. Ramsey and Osborne swapped buckets until Osborne's three-point bomb at the 1:39 mark pulled Unaka within 12 at 37-25.
   But too much Snow was in the forecast as the 6-1 senior nailed a baseline jumper late in the period to extend the Buffalo lead at 15 after three.
   "We had seen some film on them and knew who their shooters were," said Snow.
   "If you leave No. 34 (Osborne) and No. 11 (Renee Ensor) open, they are good at shooting the three. We knew not to foul Roberson because she gets a lot of points from the foul line, so we tried to take it inside and get her in foul trouble.
   "She is a very good player, but with her out of the game I was able to step up more on the offense."
   The weather conditions went from bad to worse in the fourth period as the shooting temperatures never heated up on Unaka's side, while Clarkrange was providing heavy Snow that quickly changed to a raining down of threes.
   The Buffaloes connected on three treys in the fourth quarter while Snow kept doing the dirty work inside.
   Freshman Sallee Taylor came off the bench late in the game to provide Unaka with a three-point play that proved to be the final points on the afternoon.
   Mighty Mite Osborne had a tremendous game for Unaka, tossing in 16 points. Osborne collected five boards, which topped Unaka while shooting six of six from the foul line.
   "They were much better than I expected," said Osborne. "Every shot they took seem to go in and we didn't shoot well. I hope we can come back and do better next year.
   "We have a lot of work to do."
   Coach Chambers added: "I am extremely proud of our team and their accomplishments. "Lessons learned today will make us a much better team next season."
   Unaka finishes the season at 25-7.