By Tim Chambers
The Lady Longhorns went into battle on Monday with their head coach Leon Tolley sick in his office and unable to coach. That’s when they decided to “win one for the Gipper.”
Johnson County used a well-balanced scoring attack to knock off Unaka in overtime 62-60 before a large crowd inside of Sonny Smith Gymnasium. The Rangers came into the game tied for first place in the Watauga Valley Conference and had beaten them soundly at home.
This time they couldn’t duplicate that feat.
Assistant Coach Kechia Eller and Garry Smith filled in for Tolley on the bench. Eller loved what she saw for the girls.
“I thought we might be able to get a big lead the way that
we were playing in the first half,” said Eller. “But then we let them
let them back in the game and had to really battle them to the very end. I told our girls that we needed grit and toughness out on the floor and they responded by showing us that. This was a win we needed because we got behind near the end but came back. The girls want to be a family and tonight they played for one another. That was good to see along with our ball movement and defense.”
Horns spring out of
the gate strong
The Horns got seven points from Sadie Stout and a pair of fields goals by Emmy Miller to open and close the quarter and led 17-13 after one. That’s when the Rangers went to their equalizer (6’2, senior), Myah Parlier.
The senior who has already sighed with Bryan University scored nine points in the quarter with all of them coming at close range. The game was tied at 23 all, but Taylor Cox bagged a three-ball that pushed the Horns back on top.
A late basket in the
closing seconds allowed Johnson County to take a 30-26 halftime advantage
. And the third quarter was no different than the first two.
Refusing to lose
Each team tried to land a blow that would gain them some separation, but that wasn’t to be. Cox hit a three, and Natalie Winters added a deuce that gave the Horns a 42-33 lead by a deuce by Jada Whitehead and Madison Pierce’s trey in the final seconds reduced the deficit at 42-38 going into the final frame.
The Rangers had no defense for stopping Parlier who ended the night with 33 points and 15 rebounds. They did, however, have a formula as to how they could win the game.
The Rangers led 50-44 with a minute left but couldn’t cash in on some free throws. Abby Cornett got the ball rolling with a huge trey and Miller drained another three-ball that left them trailing 53-51 with 42 seconds remaining.
The Rangers went to the line again but missed a pair with 17 seconds remaining. Johnson County put the ball in the hands of Winters who was fouled 11 seconds remaining. She sank both tosses that sent the game into overtime.
Refusing to lose Part 2
The Longhorns were able to retake the lead on a basket by Hazlee Kleine, but the Rangers refused to roll over. Parlier added another basket in the paint that put them back on top 58-56.
Taylor Parsons tied the game at 58 all by sinking a jumper then added another one that got them back on top 60-58 with less than a minute remaining.
Winters gave them the insurance they needed with a pair of free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining to make it 62-58. The Rangers hit a goal at the buzzer that reflected the final score.
Cox led their well-balanced scoring attack with
19 points, while Winters added 10 points and three assists.
Miller and Stout provided nine points each, with Parsons collecting eight points and six rebounds. Miller also contributed four assists.
Cornett followed up with five points off the bench.
Coach Tolley had this to say after the game while trying not to stay hidden from his team to keep them from catching what he had.
“I knew the best thing that I could do was stay away from them,” said Tolley. They were in great hands with Kechia and Coach Gary Smith. I’m very proud of each player and coach for the way they stepped up and won here tonight.”
Unaka’s head coach Kenneth Chambers was gracious in defeat.
“We played pretty well, but you can’t miss free throws like we did down the stretch and beat a good team like Johnson County. We were our own worst enemy.”
Unaka 16 13 9 12 7 -60
JCHS 17 12 12 11 9 -62
3-point goals—Unaka 4 (Pierce 2, Forney 1, Grindstaff 1) JC 5 (Cox 2, Winters 1, Miller 1, Cornett 1)