ERWIN — Slugging their way through the first half, the Unicoi County Blue Devils caught fire in the second half to put away rival Happy Valley on Friday night.
The Blue Devils, who appeared to see the game as a tune-up before tonight’s showdown with Three Rivers Conference leader Sullivan South, had just a three-point lead at the half.
In the second half, a more aggressive Unicoi County team jumped on the Warriors early for a 66-33 victory at the Devils Den.
The Blue Devils improved to 6-1 in the Three Rivers Conference and 18-4 overall.
“As much as we talked about not (looking ahead), I think that was part of it,” Unicoi County coach John English said. “Happy Valley did a good job of taking us out of what we like to do. But, we came out in the second half with a better focus and mindset.”
Ethan Rice led the way with an all-around performance of 13 points, six assists and four steals.
Still, the Warriors (0-7, 2-18) were down by just a single point after Josh Hammonds’ layup late in the second quarter and trailed 19-16 at the half. Freshman Austin Hicks paced Happy Valley with a game-high 15 points.
“We played a very good first half,” HV coach Chuck Babb said. “We took them out of what they wanted to do and frustrated them. We tend to do that when we have them on the defensive end where we can coach ‘em up. It wasn’t our defense got that much worse. They just shot it better in the second half.”
Unicoi’s inside duo of Connor Simpson and Nic Chambers had a lot to do with that. Simpson ended with 13 points and six rebounds, while Chambers added 11 points. In addition, Lucas Hensley contributed a team-best eight rebounds.
“Connor and Nic were pretty lackadasical in the first half and we challenged them at halftime,” English said. “In the second half, their activity, their intensity and their focus all picked up. It made a big difference in allowing us to get space and get a big run.”
Any hopes of Happy Valley orchestrating a comeback were dashed by Thomas Tipton’s long 3-pointer. Overall, Unicoi outscored the Warriors 23-4 in the decisive third quarter.
Happy Valley (girls) 50
Unicoi County 38
Mackenzie Blankenship led the Lady Warriors with 18 points in a game they led nearly start-to-finish. Happy Valley improved to 12-11 overall and 3-4 in the Three Rivers Conference and gave coach Larry Abel Jr. the kind of breakout performance he has been looking for.
“I know what kind of potential we have,” Abel said. “We’ve set our focus one game at a time. I still believe we have a shot to get the (number) two seed in our conference. The girls have committed to each other to do that. Tonight was a great step with the defense they played and the effort they gave.”
Haley Webb had 14 points, which included four goals behind the 3-point arc to lead Unicoi County (4-3, 10-11). Hannah Rice had seven points and Destinie Hayes grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
Still, Unicoi trailed 12-7 at the end of one quarter and 25-16 at the half. After the margin was sliced to five early in the third quarter, the inspired Lady Warriors pushed the lead out to nine by the end of the period.
Kalee Johnson added nine points and 11 rebounds, while Jenna Eaton and Annie Woods each had eight in a balanced attack.