Lady Blue Devils trounce Unaka

By Jeff Birchfield

   ERWIN -- After playing even for two and a half quarters, Unaka (0-1) watched Unicoi County (1-0) pull away late in a 70-46 loss Tuesday night at Unicoi County High School.
   "We played hard, but they whipped us on the boards really bad," said Lady Ranger head coach Kenneth Chambers, whose team had 19 fewer shot attempts than Unicoi County. "That's where we're a little weaker. We can size up with them, but we're still young.
   "Unicoi is a good team. They posted up hard against us and they boxed out. They beat us on the boards. We played with them up to the fourth quarter and then we got a couple of people in foul trouble and stopped executing our plays. I'm still proud of them. We did real well for a long time."
   Unaka gave the Lady Devils all they could handle early on as Kelly Taylor and Renee Ensor hit three-point baskets to put the Lady Rangers up early. Unicoi took back the lead only to have Unaka keep the game close throughout the first half, thanks largely to making their first 11 free throw attempts.
   Trailing by five, Unaka's Coty Townsend hit a bucket and free throw 12 seconds before the halftime buzzer to cut the lead to 33-31. Unicoi responded when Amber Bailey threw a terrific assist to Deanna Rice right before the half to give the Lady Devils a four-point lead going into the locker room.
   At 5:13 of the third quarter, the Lady Rangers pulled even at 38-all on a trey by Mandy Roberson. Megan Headley immediately responded for the Blue Devils with a trey of her own. Taylor took it as a personal challenge and knotted things back up on the next possession with another good attempt behind the arc.
   "The first two quarters we came out ready to play," said Taylor, who had three treys on the night. "We were confident. The second half we got real tired. We didn't box out late in the game. We have to learn to box out. I think the next time we play them, we're going to beat them."
   Roberson tied Taylor with 11 points each for the Lady Rangers' team-high despite taking a hard fall at the end of the first quarter, injuring her hip. "I fell three times," explained Roberson. "The first two times, I cried. The last time, I laughed. If we could just get everybody healthy. I know Danielle Ensor has had her ankle hurt. If everyone is healthy, we feel we can beat anybody."
   With the game tied at 41, Unicoi County went on an 18-1 run started by Bailey and a tight defense that only allowed three Unaka field goals the entire second half. "I thought the key to the streak was how we got it down the floor quickly for lay-ups," said UC coach Glenn Fisher. "We had a good rebounding advantage in that stretch.
   "Amber Bailey and Megan both had really good games. We've had about eight different girls that have played well in scrimmages. Different players would step up."
   Bailey said her team knew Unaka would be tough after facing them over the summer. "All I know is to go play aggressively and to get the ball," said Bailey, who provided the spark when her team needed it the most. "We played them this summer and we didn't play that well. They beat us this summer. We had to come out here tonight and show what we were made of."
   Kim Anders then came up with consecutive steals and lay-ups to keep things going in the Lady Devils' favor. They remained that way until the end of the game when Rachel Oler scored the last two baskets to put the final margin at 70-46 in favor of Unicoi County.
   "We fouled too much in the first half," remarked Fisher. "We played aggressive defensively, but we limited our fouls in the second half. That's what really helped us."
   Four players ended up in double-figures for the Lady Devils. Headley led the effort with 16, Bailey and Anders each had 14, and Shelton added 10. For Unaka, Julie Roberson had 7, while Amy Campbell and Renee Ensor poured in 6 apiece to help the Ranger effort.
   Even with the lopsided score at the end, the Lady Rangers remained optimistic the next time these teams meet, the outcome will be different. "I'm sure the next time we play them, we're going to get them," said Mandy Roberson. "We played them at the camp they had here and beat them by five points. We felt we could have beaten them tonight, but the fourth quarter killed us."
   Added Taylor, "It gave us quite a bit of confidence. We will be ready for them next time. We didn't have any doubt in our minds, we could play with them. We just have to learn how to finish."
   In the junior varsity game beforehand, Unicoi edged Unaka 30-27. Daphne Wilson hit a free throw to pull the Rangers within one score. As time was running out, Wilson stole the inbound pass, but missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer. Laci Hensley with 10 points and Stephanie Byrd with 6 led the Lady Devils. Kelly Taylor and Jessica Osborne had seven each to pace Unaka, while Lacy Gouge scored six.