ERWIN -- Unicoi County crashed the boards and wrecked Happy Valley’s shot for a road win on Friday night at the Devils Den.
Getting 14 of their 27 first-half points on second-chance baskets, the Blue Devils pulled out a 54-43 win over the Warriors. Similarly, a big rebounding advantage led to the Unicoi County girls scoring a surprisingly easy 69-43 win over Happy Valley in an earlier game.
Protecting their home floor was a priority for the boys team, who lost to the Warriors earlier this season at the Hardee’s Classic. With this meeting counting in the Three Rivers Conference standings, Unicoi improved to 1-2 in league play and 6-10 overall. The Warriors fell to 0-3 and 4-12.
“We already lost one (conference game) at home with East so we needed to get a win on our home court,” Unicoi County coach Michael Smith said. “Anything can happen on the road, but we haven’t lost many games here in the history of this school. We normally play better here, but it was huge to get that one at home.”
The Warriors jumped out to an early 9-2 lead in the boys’ contest, only to see Austin Green respond with the first of his three timely 3-point baskets for Unicoi.
From there, the Blue Devils battled to a 13-13 tie at the end of one quarter. They won the rebounding battle and took a 27-26 lead at the half.
In the second half, the Blue Devils stepped up on the defensive end, holding the Warriors to 17 points.
“We didn’t rebound the basketball tonight and in the first-half, they’re getting second, third and fourth shots,” Happy Valley coach Chuck Babb said. “We go in there and stand in front of somebody and think we’re blocking out. It’s just a toughness category and either you do it or you don’t.”
Ethan Rice scored 13 points to lead Unicoi County, while Austin Green finished with 11 points. Nic Chambers spearheaded the Blue Devils’ dominance on the boards with a game-high 12 rebounds.
However, it was just a two-possession game late in the fourth quarter when Keith Arrowood came up with a crucial steal and layup. It was another big moment for Arrowood in the Happy Valley sports’ rivalry. During football season, his interception return for a touchdown led to the Blue Devils capturing a 14-7 win.
“I was thinking about that football game coming into this game,” Arrowood said. “I transferred from Virginia, but I quickly found out how they are arch-rivals. I love playing against Happy Valley, hearing the big crowd and the emotions throughout the game. We had to get a win, especially playing here at home.”
The Warriors’ Brennan Bailey led all scorers with 16 points, and Ben Goulds ended with 10. Happy Valley’s coach likes the progression he’s seeing with Bailey.
“He has improved steadily over the last three weeks,” Babb said. “Each game, he’s playing a little better and getting a little bit stronger with more confidence. I thought our guards played a good game for about three and a half quarters until we got loose with the basketball. But, Brennan has come along and Camen (Wilder) plays his tail off, every time he’s out there. I would like to have about six of him.”
Unicoi County (girls) 69
Happy Valley 43
Chelsea Harness had a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Destinie Hayes had 13 points and 20 rebounds to lead the Lady Devils (2-1, 10-6) over the Lady Warriors (1-1, 8-7).
Unicoi County ended with five players in double figures. Whitley True posted a dozen points, all on shots behind the 3-point line, and Haley Webb and Tiffany Laughren each finished with 10 points. Laughren’s all-around effort included four assists and five steals.
“We played a hard schedule early in the season and it was hard for us to get in a rhytym,” Lady Devils coach Kerri King said. “ That’s helping us now. Now, we’re playing with confidence. Now when we get in a game with a hard team, it’s normal for us.”
The key statistic was a 48-20 rebounding advantage for Unicoi County.
“We wanted it real bad,” King said. “Defense was an emphasis for us. With Destinie, Chelsea and Tiffany, they also keep a lot of stuff alive for us with their offensive rebounding.”
The Lady Devils jumped out to a 16-4 lead at the end of one quarter and led 32-22 at the half. Mackenzie Blankenship had 13 points to lead Happy Valley, which never led in the game.
“We got outhustled from the get-go,” Lady Warriors coach Larry Abel said. “They had 10 second-chance points in the first quarter and that set the tone. I was very disappointed in our effort and our execution tonight.”