ERWIN — Experience was like gold to Unicoi County.
The Lady Blue Devils finally beat Elizabethton, ending a 10-game losing streak with a thrilling 40-37 win at the Devils’ Den on Tuesday night.
It was the Three Rivers Conference basketball season opener for both teams. Unicoi improved to 6-1 on the season while the Lady Cyclones fell to 3-3.
“This is a stepping stone toward getting back to where we want to be,” said Unicoi head coach Joshua Epperson. “But we still have to look at the whole road.”
After struggling throughout the game, Mikayla Bennett showed how four years of varsity experience can work. With her team trailing 37-32 and just over one minute left in the game, Bennett drained a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to two points.
It was Bennett’s first basket of the game.
“I feel like the coaches were there for me,” said Bennett. “They got me up, and even though my shots weren’t falling they helped me through.”
Epperson said the coaches told Bennett she had to focus, and she did.
“That’s what a senior does,” said Epperson. “They take criticism and build off of it.”
After Elizabethton freshman Alexis Bowers missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, Unicoi senior Emmie Thompson hit her second big shot of the fourth quarter. Her first one was a trey that ended almost a sixminute scoring drought, and her second was also a 3-pointer that put her team ahead 38-37 with 52 seconds left.
Elizabethton elected to hold for one shot, and Morgan Depew was fouled with six seconds left on a drive to the basket. However, she missed both free throws and Bennett made two free throws with 4.1 seconds left.
Bowers missed a desperation 35-footer as time expired.
Nerves were the biggest thing the Blue Devils had to overcome, said Bennett.
“We were pretty nervous the whole game,” she said. “This was a big win. It was pretty important because we hadn’t beaten them since 2008.”
Point guard Emily Edwards played a nice floor game, and led the Blue Devils with 12 points. Thompson finished with 11.
Unicoi County transfer Lauren McCurry led the Lady Cyclones with 14 points. Depew finished with 11.
Elizabethton hurt itself by missing numerous layups and uncontested point-blank stickbacks.
“I told the girls it was like having a little rabbit or baby bird in your hands and letting it get away,” said Cyclones head coach Len Dugger. “And we talked to the girls about stepping out on their 3-point shooters, but instead of doing that we stayed back.”