Trailing by one at the break, Unaka came into the second half with the mindset of crashing the boards and getting its first Watauga Valley Conference victory of the 2011-12 season.
The Rangers (10-11, 1-2 WVC) accomplished both missions on Friday night at Snavely Gym with a 51-43 win over North Greene in a game Unaka took over in the second half.
“Tonight was big,” said Rangers head coach Aaron Dugger. “It was basically must-win and I told them that whatever they have to do to get a ‘W’ is what we expected, and they did it.
“North Greene is tough and I challenged the kids at halftime about rebounding. I challenged Austin Clawson, because he has to be the one that does that for us. In the second half he responded and came up big.”
Clawson finished with nine rebounds — five of them off the offensive glass — as the Rangers turned the tables on the Huskies (13-7, 1-3).
“I just went out and did my job,” Clawson said. “I tried to do what the coaches tell me they need me to do. This was a big game and everyone played hard. I think as a team we are coming together.”
Danny Bales led the Rangers in scoring with 15, but twin brother Billy stole the show by scoring all nine of his points in the final period.
Logan Carrier hit a pair of threes in the third period and Danny Bales added another as the Rangers took a 36-33 lead going into the final stanza. Billy opened the fourth quarter with a deuce that extended the Unaka advantage to five.
The score stood at 40-37 when Billy once again scored in the paint and Clawson followed with a basket down low to give Unaka a 44-37 lead with 2:25 remaining.
Following a timeout, Billy got loose in the paint once again to stretch the Ranger advantage to nine at 46-37, but North Greene wasn’t finished as Garrett Harbin quickly scored a three-point play.
Another deuce from Billy Bales made it a 48-40 with under a minute left and the Huskies got a last-gasp trey from Harbin, but it wasn’t enough for North Greene on this night.
Matt Weems led all scores with 16 for NG, followed by 14 from Harbin. Carrier finished with 12 for the Rangers.
A barnburner of a game came down to the last possession, but it was North Greene (13-10, 2-2 WVC) that had the finishing kick at the end.
Megan Taylor nailed a trey with three and a half seconds left to give the Lady Huskies a one-point lead, and post Laiken Morrow hit a free throw to cap the win.
The Lady Huskies led throughout the first half with a dominating rebounding effort, but couldn’t open much distance on the Lady Rangers, leading 34-31 at the half.
“We tried to double team Laiken at first,” said Lady Rangers head coach Wes Wright. “She wasn’t scoring, but we fouled her a lot and she was making her free throws. In the second half we fronted her and try to work her off the block, and I think we did a better job defensively in the last three quarters.”
Unaka (9-12, 0-3) responded in the third quarter and outscored NG 16-12 in the period to take a 47-46 lead going into the fourth quarter.
What had been an overwhelming advantage for NG in the first half became almost even at game’s end, with the Huskies winning the rebound battle by just 37 to 34.
Junior guard Alicia Colbaugh and sophomore post Brandi Ensor led the Lady Rangers with eight boards each. Colbaugh had five boards on the offensive glass.
Junior post Brittany Lawson battled foul trouble and played the fourth quarter with four fouls, but scored seven of her 10 points in the period.
“I challenged Brittany at halftime to guard Laiken aggressively, and even though she was in foul trouble she did a good job and got some big rebounds,” Wright said. “I liked the way we got the ball down in the paint and made them foul us. We were a layup or a free throw away from winning the game and you never want to lose on your home court. But we don’t have time to dwell on it; we have two big conference games coming up on the road next week.”
Kassie Winters opened the fourth period with a deuce for Unaka, but Haley Vaughan answered for NG. The score stood at 54-52 when Unaka went on a six-point run, with Winters hitting a basket, Lawson banging home two free throws and Autumn Bradshaw canning a bucket to give Unaka a 60-52 lead before Vaughan tallied again for the Huskies.
Morrow scored a basket and hit two free throws to tie the game at 60-60, but Winters answered back for the Rangers. Darianne Bailey hit two pressure packed free throws for NG with the home crowd stomping its feet, but Lawson got a basket in the paint for a 64-62 Ranger lead with less than 20 seconds left.
Morrow then missed a shot down low at the baseline and Alicia Colbaugh snagged the rebound, but her outlet pass was tipped and picked off by NG, which quickly rotated the ball to the other side — where Taylor fired the dagger that gave the Huskies the lead at 65-64.
“She was right in front of our bench and I told her to bust it,” said Lady Huskies head coach James Buchanan. “Unaka outplayed us in the second half, but I have faith in our kids’ shooting ability and I always tell them when you get an open look take it — and we will live with the results.”