An opening period of frustration for Happy Valley saw the Warriors fall behind Unicoi County by double digits, and the Lady Warriors encountered similar woes at the start of the second half as both Blue Devil squads earned Three Rivers Conference road victories at Bayless Gym on Friday night.
The Warriors played the Blue Devils to a draw over the last three quarters, but were unable to overcome their first-quarter malaise in a 56-42 loss — while the Lady Warriors saw a seven-point, first-half deficit balloon to 23 by the end of the third in a 68-35 defeat.
The Warriors (4-6, 1-2 TRC) shot just one-for-12 from the floor in the first period as Unicoi raced to a 16-2 first-quarter advantage.
“A lot of those shot were right in the paint,” said HV head coach Charlie Bayless. “It’s just like our game against Hampton. We did the same thing. Fell behind by 12 then could never catch up. If we learn to play four quarters, a full game, by golly we might beat someone.”
HV got on the board first on a deuce by Kelton Brzostowski, then saw the Blue Devils (16-3, 2-1 TRC) score the next 16 to put the Warriors in a hole they could not dig out of. The Devils took a 28-14 lead into the break at the half and were not really threatened from there.
“Sometimes when you get up on a team, start fast at 22-4, sometimes there is nowhere to go from there,” said Blue Devils head coach John English. “The coach is pushing you for more, but you have a letdown and the other team gets back in it a little bit, and the game becomes a grind from there.”
A 31-6 free-throw edge by Unicoi County helped contribute to the stalemate as the Warriors fought back, but were prone to committing the kind of fouls for which good teams make you pay.
“We fouled a lot and that’s because we didn’t play good defense,” Bayless explained. “If you move your feet and stay in good position see, you don’t have to foul. 31 to six free throws though, boy, that’s hard to take.”
The Devils hit 23 of their 31 (74.1 percent) free throws compared with the two-for-six (33.3 percent) the Warriors connected on.
Senior center Donivan Grindstaff led the Warriors with 13 points, which included a pair of treys, and junior guard Camen Wilder scored 10 while also hitting a pair of long-range shots.
Sophomore guard Ethan Rice led all scorers with 16 for Unicoi, but was not sharp from distance, hitting on three of 10 outside the arc. Senior post Austin Hensley scored 15 for the Devils, while Trevor Shelton added 12.
The Lady Devils’ charitable mood that existed in the first half evaporated in a third-quarter blitz that saw the Unicoi County squad extend a 24-17 halftime lead into a 48-25 lead going into the fourth quarter.
What began as a battle for sole possession of first place quickly dissolved into a Lady Blue Devil rout as the second half began. Unicoi County (14-5, 3-0 TRC) hit nine-of-10 from the floor in the third period and opened the period with a 17-0 run.
“If we could string two of those first halves together, that would be nice,” said Lady Warriors coach Erica Beach. “We just broke down in the second half, and I take full responsibility for it. When you lose a good senior player to an injury, it affects everyone.”
Senior guard Chelsea Hoilman went to the court in obvious distress after a battle for a rebound and suffered an undisclosed injury to her left knee that she explained as “my ACL.”
Hoilman had made the long journey back to the court from a similar injury to her right knee and the loss of her presence as a defensive force against Blue Devil guard Riley King was palpable. Hoilman finished with four points and three rebounds.
“It upset the kids, it upset me,” said Beach. “We just got Katie (Hodge) back, but she still isn’t Katie yet. It was helpful to have her back. I thought Carrie Gouge played a very solid game. We have to learn from this, try to learn from what we did wrong and try to get better on what we did right.
“It all fell apart in one quarter and I told the girls that the score they see in the paper will not reflect the kind of game we played. Unicoi and Happy Valley is always a rivalry no matter if they are first and we’re last, or they’re last and we’re first.”
King scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half and led the charge for the Blue Devils in the third period. King scored a three-point play, two deuces and finished with a long three and Chelsea Gardner hit three buckets in the quarter as UC outscored the Warriors 24-8.
Junior guard Emily Edwards was one of three Blue Devils with 14 points along with King and Gardner.
For Happy Valley (7-9, 2-1 TRC) sophomore guard McKenzie Blankenship scored 13, including a pair of triples, while Gouge added eight points and nine boards.