The Lady Warriors’ senior guard scored the last 12 points of the game for her team, including an and-one layup to break a tie with 5.7 seconds left. Her free throw capped off a stirring 61-58 victory over Unicoi County in the quarterfinals of the District 1-AA girls basketball tournament Friday night at the Warriors’ gym.
Happy Valley (16-14) advanced to play top-seeded Elizabethton (23-3) on Monday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals.
It was a season-ender for Unicoi County, which finished at 12-16 with five losses in its last six games.
In other quarterfinal contests, Sullivan East pounded Sullivan North 84-19 while Sullivan South ran away from Johnson County, 54-41.
East (26-6) will face off with South (16-12) on Monday at 4 p.m.
Tonight’s contests will be three boys’ quarterfinal games, beginning at 5 p.m.
Blankenship had just six points at halftime, but burned it up in the second half to finish with 27.
“She’s a pure scorer,” said Happy Valley head coach Larry Abel. “She has a will to continue to the next level, and she didn’t want the season to end.”
It was a matter of staying after it, said Blankenship.
“We just kept saying, ‘Don’t give up,’ ” she said. “This was our game, and we deserved to be here. This is our house, and we protected it. We played well when it counted.”
With the score tied at 58-58, Unicoi in-bounded the ball 94 feet from the basket with 15 seconds remaining. Hannah Rice raced down the court, and went to the hoop for a layup attempt. But Kalee Johnson blocked it and recovered the rebound.
It was the fourth blocked shot of the game for Johnson, who also had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“We had her back there in center field, and she did a good job of stepping over aggressively,” said Abel. “She did a great job executing.”
When Johnson got the rebound, she looked up and found Blankenship behind the defense.
“As soon as she had the rebound, I knew to go,” said Blankenship. “I knew she would have her head up down the floor. She’s always good at looking ahead.”
Blankenship caught the home-run pass in stride, and beat a charging defender to the basket. She got the layup to crawl over the rim and into the hoop as she was fouled.
“I was nervous about it going in,” said Blankenship.
Unicoi once again went to Rice, and she beat the defense to the frontcourt — only to have Kaitlynn Kincer make the defensive gem by poking the ball away from behind as Rice was setting to shoot a 3-pointer.
“We wanted to keep the ball in front of us, but Rice did a good job getting around us,” said Abel. “It was an excellent effort from Kincer to get back and get the tip. It was another senior stepping up and making a big play.”
Unicoi took early control of the game with seven straight points to close the first quarter with a 20-13 lead. A late 8-0 run by the Lady Warriors in the second quarter gave them a 31-29 halftime edge.
The Lady Blue Devils edged back out to leads of 43-38 and 47-41, but Blankenship and Jamie Lee Clark each nailed a three ball in the final 26 seconds to make it 49-47 at the end of three quarters.
Unicoi maintained its lead throughout the fourth quarter, and was ahead 58-55 with a chance to open a two-possession lead from the free throw line with 31.4 left. A miss gave Happy Valley another chance, and Annie Woods’ tough rebound in the lane was followed by a kick out to Blankenship, who rained a 3-parade to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining.
Chelsey Harness had an impressive effort in the losing cause, totaling 16 points and 11 rebounds. Rice also went down battling with 15 points and three assists.
Haley Webb knocked down a quartet of 3-balls to finish with 12 points and three assists. Destinie Hayes added eight points and 16 rebounds.
Sullivan South 54
Johnson County 41
The Lady Rebels built a 29-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and pulled their starters before a spirited rally brought the Lady Longhorns a little closer at the finish.
South initially jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter. It was 23-14 midway through the second quarter, but a 7-0 run by the Lady Rebels gave them a 16-point halftime edge.
Morgan Seymore knocked down a 3-pointer to open the second half, touching off an 11-4 run by the Rebels that ended any doubt. South also closed the third quarter with an 8-0 spurt.
It was 53-24 before Johnson County closed the game with a 17-1 run, highlighted by a superb finish to the career of Brooke Brown. She totaled 22 points.
Kayla Tipton led the Lady Rebels with 14 points while Brayden Hutchins added 12.
Sullivan East 84
Sullivan North 19
Brandy Watkins scored all of her 18 points in the first quarter as the Lady Patriots built a 36-0 lead. By halftime it was 60-8.
East also got 13 points from Tatum Gouge and 11 apiece from Megan Addison and Kara Stafford.
North was led by Shania Leonard’s eight points.