By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
ELIZABETHTON—Johnson County’s quest to earn a berth in the regional tournament came up short once again on Thursday night against Unicoi County. The Lady Longhorns gave a gut-wrenching effort before falling 54-41 in the first round of the District 1AA tournament played at Elizabethton High School inside of Treadway Gymnasium.
The Horns once again had a slow start that led to their elimination, trailing 13-3 after the first quarter before rallying to take the lead in the second period.
Head coach Leon Tolley touched on the efforts that got them back in the game and the offensive woes that put them behind the eight ball.
“Slow starts have been our bugaboo all year,” said Tolley. “That was the case again tonight in the first quarter. I thought we came back ready to play in the second quarter because we gave them enough gifts early. We came back and played hard in the second, so I felt like we were ready to take over. Sometimes you give in, and we had not been in that situation before. The girls were so nervous that they couldn’t stand it. Unicoi has a veteran team, and they outplayed us tonight. I was expecting more from us, but I couldn’t be any more proud of our kids for the type of effort they each gave.”
Tolley was spot on about the bugaboo start.
Adrian Hall’s basket in the first quarter was the only made field goal for Johnson County. They shot a frigid 1-of-10 from the field and trailed 13-3 after one but all that would change in the second quarter.
Longhorns’ second-quarter surge
Taylor Parsons got things started with a couple of buckets that sliced the deficit to six. Four points from Taylor Cox and a putback by Parsons underneath would allow them to tie the game at 15 all capping off a 12-2 run.
Natalie Winters gave the Longhorns their last lead at 20-19 with a free throw after two ties, the final one at 19 all.
The Blue Devils rode the first half play of Halie Padgett and Chloe Powers to a 24-21 advantage. Powers sank a trey in the final seconds while Padgett provided nine points and five rebounds over the first two quarters.
Johnson County got off to a good start in the third quarter when Emmy Miller connected on a jumper to get them within one at 24-23, but the Blue Devils would score the next six points.
Miller got loose for another hoop that left them trailing 30-25 and Hall’s three-ball kept it at six, but the Devils managed to increase it back to 10 on a basket by Padgett and her two free throws.
Blue Devils strong down the stretch
The Horns found themselves unable to fight back in the fourth quarter due to the long-range shooting by the Lady Blue Devils.
Tenley Holt, Kaylee Headrickson, and Powers all hit treys that would give Unicoi its largest lead of the game at 46-29.
Senior Brittney Brooks sank a three-ball midway through the fourth quarter that got the deficit back under ten at 48-39, but Padgett’s 3-point play would push it back to 12.
Sadie Stout had a late basket that cut it back to ten, but the Horns wouldn’t overcome their sluggish third quarter start which proved to be the difference in the game.
Parsons led the Longhorns with 10 points and nine rebounds. Cox added eight points as did Courtney Brooks, six coming in the fourth quarter. Hall tallied five points and three assists. Stout provided three assists and a pair of steals.
It was the final game for seniors, Kaitlyn Nichols, Courtney and Brittney Brooks.
“Courtney did a lot of good things for us this year, and Kaitlyn and Brittney both came on late and did some good things,” said Tolley. “Our younger girls thanked them after the game for setting such a great example. We appreciate all they did for our basketball program.”
Padgett led all scorers with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Powers reached double figures by scoring 10.
The season ended up being a good one for the young Longhorns while the rotating its first eight players included five sophomores and two freshmen.
The girls enjoyed wins over Elizabethton, Hampton, Happy Valley twice and David Crockett, finishing the year at 5-19.
“I don’t measure this season’s success with wins and losses,” said Tolley. “I look back at where we started from May till now, and I see a lot of improvement. We have to wor
k on their confidence and convince them that we can be a good team. That’s the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome at this point. We got nine players coming back on the varsity and some moving up that can help. We’re all looking forward to next season.”
District 1-AA Quarterfinals
Unicoi County 54, Johnson County 41
JOHNSON COUNTY (5-19)
Parsons 10, Cox 8, C. Brooks 8, Hall 5, E. Miller 4, Winters 3, Stout 2, B. Brooks 3, Kleine 0, Cornett 0, Nichols 0
UNICOI County (19-8)
Padgett 20, Powers 10, Vance 9, Holt 6, Headrickson 5, Griffith 3, King 1
3 18 7 13 — 41
13 11 14 16 — 54
3-point goals—JC 2 (Hall 1, B. Brooks 1) UC 5 (Powers 3, Vance 1, Holt 1)