Sometimes area basketball teams will brave a little snow to get a game played, but nobody was willing to take on the icy conditions Friday.
Most teams will give it a go tonight, including a first-place showdown in the Three Rivers Conference between Elizabethton and Sullivan East in Bluff City.
However, a first-place battle in the Watauga Valley Conference between University High and Hampton has been pushed to Monday at White-Van Huss Gymnasium.
As for other postponements, Daniel Boone and David Crockett called off their home games. Boone and Volunteer will give it another try tonight at regular game times, while South and Crockett will follow suit.
Also rescheduled for tonight is Unicoi County’s contest at Happy Valley. Sullivan North’s game at Johnson County has been moved to Feb. 11.
When University High visits Hampton, the Junior Bucs will still be a step ahead in league play. They are 4-1 in the conference and 15-6 overall. Cloudland is 3-1 while Unaka is 3-2 and Hampton is 2-2.
Head coach Justin Penley has helped his team stay atop the conference despite some adversity, including the loss of Joseph Phillips to a back injury.
Phillips was averaging 14.5 points and was Northeast Tennessee’s second-best 3-point shooter.
“We’ve definitely faced some adversity,” said Penley. “But when you lose a player you’ve depended on, other kids have the opportunity to increase their production and their role. We’ve been fortunate to have kids do that.”
Marcus Taylor has picked up his scoring, recently putting together several 30-point performances. Point guard Seth Hilbert and post Calen Archer have also been asked to get the ball in the basket a little more often.
“Seth has his scoring up a little, and Calen has also started scoring more,” said Penley. “And we’ve had a couple of kids, Gabe Perry and Marshall Hurley, doing more with their minutes. Gabe has done some good things defensively and rebounding while Marshall has come on with a few more points, and he’s defending well.”
Penley said the players had to step up because the Watauga Valley Conference is so competitive.
“It’s definitely as good as it has been since I’ve been in the league, and this is my sixth year,” said Penley. “And it’s not just quality players, but quality coaches. Look across the board, and these coaches do a great job of preparing the kids every single day.”
The league is so tough, no team has been able to crack into the win column on the road against any of the top four teams. UH lost at Cloudland, Cloudland lost at Hampton, Hampton lost at Unaka and UH, and Unaka lost at Cloudland and UH.
“It’s difficult to win on the road any night, and it’s difficult to win at home if you don’t play well,” said Penley.
After playing Hampton, UH will play host to Cloudland on Tuesday before wrapping up at Unaka on Feb. 8.
Everybody is trying to avoid the No. 4 position in the league, which carries a play-in game for the district tournament against North Greene. Even though the Huskies are 0-6 in the conference, they are 11-10 overall as every Watauga Valley team has a winning overall record.
“It’s a testament to how strong the conference is,” said Penley. “I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four teams wound up in the sectional, or even wound up hosting a sectional game.”
The four-team hunt should make an interesting final few weeks of the regular season.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting finish,” said Penley. “If nothing else, I hope it gets the word out that the Watauga Valley Conference is something people should be checking out. If you’re not coming, you’re missing out.”
There’s plenty of good action in the Three Rivers as well — perhaps none better than tonight’s battle in Bluff City.
East (20-6) hasn’t lost since the Arby’s Classic, and has already clinched a first-round bye for the District 1-AA tournament.
“Our guys have been consistent,” said head coach John Dyer. “They’ve been ready every night, and they’re playing well together. We’ve got some experienced senior guys who have been there before.”
The Patriots only defeated Elizabethton by six points (55-49) in their first meeting back on Jan. 4.
“That was a really good win for us,” said Dyer. “We know how good they are. They have a real good team and a lot of weapons. It should be a good battle.”
In other rescheduling news, Tennessee High and Sullivan Central didn’t have the option of moving their game to today because the Cougars already had a rescheduled contest at Dobyns-Bennett. The Lady Cougars will play the Indians at noon with the boys’ contest set for 1:30 p.m.
Central and Tennessee High will try to get their contest played on Feb. 8.