KINGSPORT — A pair of Class AA programs battled like a couple of Three Rivers Conference basketball rivals should Saturday at Sullivan South, and in the end somebody had to step up and decide the night’s winners.
Following a 54-49 South overtime girls decision against Unicoi County to open play, two ready-for-primetime sophomores lifted the Blue Devils to an evening split with a 63-61 boys win over the home-standing Rebels.
“All 10 of our players were engaged and our coaching staff, too,” said second-year Unicoi County boys coach John Good. “They all pulled for each other and we got it done. It was a really good team win.”
Indeed it was, but it was primarily the work of guard Grant Hensley and fellow 10th grader Lucas Slagle, a powerful back-to-the-basket pivotman, which provided the Blue Devils (8-7, 2-1) with what they needed to get over the hump.
In a game that featured 11 lead changes and four ties, Hensley made five 3-point jump shots for the second straight game and scored 24 points, while the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Slagle produced a strong edge inside with his 16 points.
The 6-1 Hensley was particularly blazing in the second period, burying four threes and helping his team turn an early 15-7 deficit into a sudden 24-19 lead, before the two teams settled on a 32-32 deadlock at halftime.
“We knew (Hensley) had a big game last night (a 10-point loss to Elizabethton) and one of our goals was to be there when he caught the ball, but they did a good job of setting him up off their drives to the basket in the first half,” said South coach Mark Pendleton. “We let him get loose ... several times.”
While Hensley was doing his damage on the perimeter, Slagle was more than South could handle inside, often getting to the foul line, where he was 10 of 12.
The pair combined to make 5 of 6 free throws in a short span early in the fourth quarter as Unicoi County suddenly upped a one-point edge to a 56-50 lead with 3:12 left in the game — a deficit the Rebels (5-5, 2-1) could not overcome.
Slagle made 3 of 4 foul shots to ultimately provide the six-point bulge, after getting fouled and then going to the line to also shoot two technical free throws.
Hensley made seven free throws for the evening.
“Grant has been on fire the last two games and Lucas ... if Lucas has his mind right, he’s hard to handle down there,” Good said. “And I think our guys do a good job of getting him the basketball. Lucas had a particularly good night at the foul line.”
South placed four players in double figures, led by the 14-point effort of Cooper Johnson. Nick Ellege, Colton Mullins and Ethan Bergeron all scored 11 for the Rebels, who got as close as 59-58 with 24 seconds to play.
Hensley drained four free throws down the stretch to seal the outcome.
South made nine 3-point shots, including three by Ellege. Unicoi County hit connected on seven 3s.
JORDAN LIFTS LADY REBELS
Junior guard Allie Jordan made 13 of 14 free throws and scored a game-high 21 points, helping South claim a tough victory over the Lady Blue Devils.
Chloe Nelson scored 10 points for the Rebels (8-4, 2-2), who eased away in the overtime session behind the free-throw shooting of Jordan.
Unicoi County (7-6, 1-2) forced the OT after trailing 32-24 through three periods.
The Devils, who hit seven 3s on the night, were paced by the 18-point game of Caroline Podvin and the 13-point outing of Tenley Holt off the bench.