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Lady Rangers victorious over JCHS Lady Horns

It was another hard knock on the road for the Lady Longhorns Tuesday night as the Unaka Lady Rangers proved to be a more than formidable foe. Having just played a strong game the night before against the Sullivan South Lady Rebels, Johnson County’s optimism seemed high as they rolled into Stony Creek.  What started out well in the first quarter became a steady down hill plunge through the rest of the game.
According to Brooke Brown, who played a big part of the senior leadership on the team, the problem might have actually been a little too much confidence. “I guess everybody just had the big head,” Brown said.  “I think everybody believed that since we almost beat South, one of the best teams in our conference, that we could come in and stomp Unaka like we did last year.”
To begin with, it did seem like the Lady Longhorns were going to be very competitive at the least. The Lady Rangers were first to take the initiative with a quick layup only to be followed by a three- pointer, but Johnson County fought back just as hard with sophomores Kourtney Tolley and Kelsey Duperry making some easy shots close under the net. A foul against Brown tied the game at 6, and with another foul on Brionna Reece, the Lady Longhorns finally took the lead by one point 9-8. Unaka remained neck and neck down to the buzzer, but Brown was able to land a final basket with three seconds on the clock to allow her team to come into the second ahead 12-10.
The game remained an even match until about the four-minute mark of the second quarter, when Unaka went on a very fast, very damaging run that saw them make five consecutive baskets in less than two minutes of game time. After going from a 12-12 tie to being behind 12-25, there was little that Johnson County could do but try to hold on the remainder of the game.  “The whole problem was in our defense, definitely our defense,” Brown said. “Everyone was just sitting back on their heels and not guarding. We’d foul and then that girl down at the post, she’d get the ball and instead of being physical and guarding her, we’d just stand straight up and let her score over us and then take a foul and she’d get three points. I think our biggest problem was defense.”
As Brown pointed out, quick, short shots often carrying a plus one foul became the trademark of the second half. Although players like Mary Taylor and Michala Cretsinger did their best to at least keep up with the pace of Unaka’s offense, they simply couldn’t match the Lady Rangers basket for basket. As a result, even though Johnson County began to score more often, the deficit still actually went up through the third quarter.
Things finally leveled out a little toward the end of the third with Johnson County bringing the lead back within single digits, but even before the buzzer sounded for the end of the quarter it had climbed back to 12 at 31-43. With time now running out, the team began to execute an excellent play that more often than not put junior Mary Taylor in position for a layup, but even with nearly a half dozen buckets to her credit it wasn’t enough to offset Unaka’s advances. Over and over again Johnson County continued to have trouble fouling Unaka on a drive, especially in the last couple of minutes of the game where the Lady Rangers really began to pour on the heat.
The lead eventually hit 20, and with only a couple minutes left in the game the writing was on the wall. By the time the damage was done, Unaka walked away with a huge 47-61 win. Yet, while she did acknowledge that her team has some errors to correct, Brown was still optimistic about the final fate of her senior season with the team.
“Communication wise sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not,” Brown said.  “We just have to keep working at practice, get better on defense, and keep getting motivation. We’re going to Knoxville Thursday, and while we’re there we’re going to have work hard and try to get better. These are definitely fixable problems. We’ve just all got to come together as a team.”