Longhorns come up short against tough Unicoi team
By Jonathan PleasantIt was a particularly festive night at Johnson County’s most recent home game as the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) Club sponsored a series of Red Out events to raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association. Held in and around the boys’ game against the visiting Unicoi County Blue Devils, the normally maroon and white student section became covered in Red Heart Association t-shirts, which HOSA students were selling. Even the JCHS cheerleaders got involved not only wearing the same gear but also holding special events before the game and during halftime.
Lead by HOSA president Kelsey Watson, students formed a heart around the team as they came out and sponsored a special half court shot at halftime, which was won by Jaden Joyner. The cheerleaders put on a special performance, including a special segment in honor of the squad’s seniors.
Despite the celebratory air of the night, the game itself was a real fight to the finish that eventually came up short. With Unicoi holding the number one spot in the conference, the win could have been huge for Johnson County, and things appeared to be going well all the way down to the fourth quarter. Foul trouble and a lack of successful execution in the last two minutes of the game proved very costly, turning what was a two-point deficit into nine points by the final buzzer.
“There were just too many turnovers, too many missed blockouts,” said Head Coach Austin Atwood. “You play a good team that’s as talented as Erwin, as deep as Erwin, and well coached, you have to do about everything right. I think we had 10 turnovers in the first half and a lot of that was non-pressure turnovers. We just have to take care of the ball a little better.”
The whole first half was a back and forth battle for control with the Blue Devils always managing to stay just a few points out front. Both Brian Dempsey and Chase Phillips were able to keep up offensively, scoring numerous mid range shots and layups, and ultimately bringing the game to a tie at 14 midway through the second. Yet, once again it was Unicoi that was first to break the stalemate, hitting two back-to-back shots to jump to 18.
Dempsey managed a tough bucket right under the net and was followed by a key steal from Phillips, who ran it back down the court to pop in a final shot right before the buzzer that tied the game back up at 18. The third followed largely the same pattern, with Unicoi fighting hard to keep ahead by one or two baskets only to have the Longhorns right on their heels. The game would have been much different without a strong Johnson County defense that frustrated some of the Blue Devils best shooters.
An especially good performance on this front came from sophomore Cody Bailie whom Coach Atwood praised after the game. “I thought we defended really well,” Atwood said. “I thought that Cody Bailie did an absolutely great job on Connor Simpson. Simpson is one of the best players in East Tennessee, a hard worker, and I thought for a sophomore, Cody Bailie did an outstanding job of keeping him from hurting us.”
Yet even with Bailie helping Unicoi still managed to start pulling away right at the end of the third. “I thought Ethan Price came in and did a great job in the 1st and 3rd quarter, “ said Atwood. “He scored their first six points and just kind of went right at us. They bring the JV kid off the bench and hit a couple of threes. They just went on a couple of good runs there, and if we hadn’t allowed that I think it might have been a different turnout. They just had to work with everything they got, and they did. They got two or three offensive boards, one on a free throw, and two more that were huge. I have to give them some credit, those two kids were quick because we really did go at them. They came up with a couple of big plays when they needed them.”
Trailing 25-29 coming into the fourth, the Longhorns were never quite able to bring it back to an even playing field even though they were well within range all the way down to the last minute and a half. Point guard J.R. Speed began landing a few baskets right at the beginning of the fourth that kept Johnson County in position holding at 4, 35-39. With time running out, Unicoi began holding and forced the Longhorns into a fouling position. That only widened the gap farther, and in the final few seconds the lead jumped nearly to 10, to finish up 39-48.
Although the final victory never came, the fact that Johnson County did so well against such as high ranked opponent still seemed to give Coach Atwood some comfort. “We know we’re capable of playing very well,” Atwood said. “We have to stay out of foul trouble but we know that we can beat anybody in our league. Of course we know that anybody in our league can beat us. We can beat anybody on any given night, but that’s what we’re trying to eliminate, get out of those games where we come in and just don’t produce. Tonight I thought our kids produced. It was just that a couple of shots didn’t go down and a couple of bad turnovers there late.”
Johnson County 39,
Chase Phillips 13
Brian Dempsey 10
J.R. Speed 6
Dalton Timbs 5
Cody Bailie 5