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Lady 'Horns lose, but not without a fight

Facing off against the number one ranked team in the conference is a tall order for any team, and considering the brutal loss they endured against Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils only a few weeks ago, the Lady Longhorn’s fans had little hope for their team’s victory Friday night. However, Johnson County burst onto the court with the singular intent to prove they should not be taken so lightly. In the first two minutes alone, Sarah Swift, Brooke Brown, and Brandy Dugger had landed baskets, while an off guard Lady Devil offense began to falter, giving them an early dry spell with nothing on the board.
Reflecting on the difference between his team’s performances at home versus away, Coach Todd Whittemore seemed to be very cautiously impressed. “We lost to them by 35 just a few weeks ago. We lose here by 11. On the inbounds instead of sitting back we were all up on the line and gave them a chance for a couple of deflections, but boy am I proud of my girls. We’re getting better. They are getting better. Unicoi is number one in the conference, number four in northeast Tennessee. Only Cloudland, Science Hill, and Tennessee High are above them.”
Yet despite a great start to the game, and two well played follow up quarters, a moments lapse in the fourth cost them the victory. However, judging by the growing excitement of the crowd, the overall course of the game was a welcome surprise. Johnson County’s initial lead became a tie at 7 with two minutes left in the first, but a timely foul shot followed by a save under the boards by Brandy Dugger pushed Johnson County ahead 10-9, only to be outdone by a last second foul that set Unicoi at 11.
The Lady Longhorns seemed to take every play as serious as if it were the game winner going into the second, and kept toe to toe with their bigger, more experienced opponents as a result. A few slip ups early on put Johnson County down by five at the beginning of the period, but the first of several 3 point baskets by Brooke Brown helped to tie the score back up at 16 with two minutes until the half. Beginning with a couple of free throws by Kristin Roark, Johnson County went on a roll that saw them not only take back control of the game but also put them ahead by four. A Unicoi County 3 pointer and just before the buzzer nearly cost the lead, but was saved yet again by Brown with a very last second basket to end the half in Johnson County’s favor 22-21.
Although Whittemore gave a lot of credit to the whole team’s performance, he also gave attention to Brown’s notable hustle throughout the night. “Brooke Brown was ballin’ tonight. We’ve been wanting Sarah, Brionna, and Brooke to all score 15-20 every time. They were applying pressure and we did a very good job most of the game but there in the third quarter and early fourth I thought we made some careless passes. Brooke handled the ball all night against that pressure.”
Brown’s three pointers continued to be a factor in the third, pushing the girls’ lead up to six in the first few minutes and helping Johnson County to maintain a relatively comfortable control for most of the period. A few slips ups and turnovers in the last two minutes gave Unicoi some ground, eventually allowing them to tie up the game at 36, and even take a short lead with 38. Another Lady Longhorn 3 pointer, this time by Sarah Swift, put Johnson County back out front closing the 3rd 41-40.
With such a successful night so far, the Lady Longhorn fans were electric coming into the fourth, and with fingers crossed, many began hoping to see a major upset. Everything seemed to be on track when disaster struck with just over six minutes left in the game. In a devastating 30 second stroke of luck and skill, the Lady Blue Devils pulled ahead by one with a foul, that turned immediately into a rebound followed by a steal. In that one fell swoop the score went from a nervously close 42-43, to being behind by five at 47.
A quick pick up by Brown put the lead back down to three, but using their newfound momentum, the Lady Blue Devils were determined to stay as far ahead as possible. As the quarter wore on with Johnson County only a few points behind, Unicoi County began playing a game of keep away, eating up the remaining time on the clock and dissolving away the Lady Longhorn’s chances at victory. In their efforts to get back into the game, Johnson County began to have some costly fouls, only making the situation worse.
In the end, despite an amazing steal and layup by Brionna Reece, Johnson County was unable to prevail, finishing up in the last minute farther behind than they had been in the whole game. Even with their troubles down the home stretch, Whittemore could not help but to highlight the phenomenal differences in the performances of his team as compared to earlier in the season.
“I told my girls last time we played them, that they’ve got some pretty girls on that team that wear a lot of make up and get their hair all spritzed up. But last time we didn’t even make their makeup run. They could have gone to a formal dance right after the last game. Tonight I think we made them sweat a little bit. I didn’t hear them celebrating in the locker room. I don’t think it was fun for them tonight. We didn’t want to play dirty but we did want to play physical. We wanted to play tough and if we were going to go down tonight we wanted them to gain a little respect from us. We wanted this game to not be fun for them. We did achieve that goal although we didn’t win the game.”

Final Scores: Johnson County 52, Unicoi County 61
Brooke Brown 23
Brionna Reece 14
Sarah Swift 7
Brandy Dugger 6
Kristin Roark 2