Unicoi holds on to defeat Lady Rangers

By Travis Brown
STAR Correspondent

   Despite failing to answer the opening bell, the Unaka Lady Rangers made a valiant effort at a comeback; however the effort fell short as the Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils took home a 48-43 victory Thursday night from Snavely Gym.
   After one quarter of play it looked as if the visiting Lady Blue Devils were going to roll to an easy win, but a second-quarter offensive stall and a second-half meltdown nearly let it slip away.
   Unaka head coach Ken Chambers had much to say about his club's first quarter jitters.
   "We were not ready to play when we came out on the floor," Chambers said. "We just didn't step up."
   The first quarter began with a bang as the Lady Devils jumped out to a 20-8 first-quarter lead with 10 points from senior Meghan Headley. The Region 1-AA MVP of a year ago lit up the Ranger defense for a trifecta of threes en route to a game-high 17 points.
   Both teams would struggle in the second quarter as the Lady Rangers found a defensive solution to the Unicoi onslaught. Despite slowing the production, Unaka could not buy a bucket.
   The scoring drought lasted for the majority of the second period, until Coty Townsend scored on a pull-up jumper with 2:25 remaining in the half. Unicoi maintained control and strengthened the lead to 16 heading to halftime, 26-10.
   Chambers felt that some opportunities went by the boards in the second quarter.
   "Our guards were not playing to their ability" he said. "We have two great guards, and they needed to step up."
   The adjustments that Chambers made at halftime were apparently what the doctor ordered, because the second half saw a different team wearing white.
   Both teams would continue to find the stride during the third quarter, as the Lady Rangers outscored the Devils 11-10 in the period. A spurt of takeaways midway through the period helped the Lady Rangers pull within 10 points, but the lead would stand at 15 points heading to the final frame.
   If the first three quarters were not up to par, the fourth frame was worth the price of admission. The Rangers battled foul trouble to make a run at the commanding Unicoi lead.
   Unaka pulled back to within 10 halfway through the fourth thanks to the strong play of Danielle Ensor. With Ensor pouring home the points, defensive steals from Jessi Osborne helped close the gap even further.
   With 1:36 remaining in the contest, Chambers was not pleased with the setup and burned his final timeout. After the timeout, the Rangers pulled to within four points with 35.8 seconds on the clock.
   The Lady Blue Devils, although unsure for a few minutes, responded solidly with accurate foul shooting during the final half minute. Headley, along with Kellye Lingerfelt, hit four critical free throws down the stretch to seal the victory for the Devils.
   Blue Devil skipper Glenn Fisher remained upbeat after the contest, thankful that his girls responded when the game was on the line.
   "I expect a lot out of all these girls" Fisher said. "We played well in the first half, and hung on in the second half."
   For Chambers and the Lady Rangers the contest shows the best and worst of this season's hopes.
   "Our players worked hard all night, but the biggest adjustment we have to make is to show up and play hard. We played hard and kept fighting, and that is something to build on."