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Unicoi fends off North for Watauga crown

Bill Lane • Feb 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Unicoi County basketball coach John English wants to play Sullivan North again, but he isn’t eager for it to happen anytime soon.

The Blue Devils (21-4, 11-2) clinched the Watauga Conference championship Friday night with an 83-73 win over North.

It wasn’t easy. The Golden Raiders (10-16, 6-8) stayed on Unicoi County’s heels most of the way despite a bombardment of 3-pointers by the visitors. With four minutes to go in the game, North was still in contention.

“(The Raiders) have come a long way since we last saw them,’’ English said. “Mitch Cox gets the most out of his players. Offensively, he’s turned them loose a little. You could see the confidence in his players rising. They’re going to be tough to beat in the District 1-AA tournament. We’d like to face them again — but not until the finals.’’

Two weeks ago, Cox decided his team was better suited for a faster attack. “Early in the season we were averaging 45 points a game,’’ he said. “In the last five games, we’ve averaged 75. We’ve gone to a different style, pushing the ball upcourt and trapping more.’’

Offense apparently sells. More than 1,500 spectators filed into J. Richard Carroll Gymnasium anticipating a battle between David and Goliath. They weren’t disappointed.

“We appreciate all these fans coming out,’’ Cox said. “This is what it’s going to take to bring basketball back here.’’

It was Senior Night and Cox’s soon-to-be graduates played with much enthusiasm. “You can’t say enough about Bruce Winegar, Eric Herring, Hunter McReynolds and Hunter Hart. We’re going to miss these seniors. They have set a precedent. They’re great on the court and in the classroom. The teachers love them.’’

North’s group of seniors won only one game as freshmen.

Winegar led North in scoring with 20 points and Herring had 15. William White, a freshman, hit 14.

McReynolds left the game with a facial cut and two other regulars — Ryan Jessee and Mark Salyers — played sparingly because of illness. “This caused us some depth problems,’’ Cox said.

Unicoi County burned the nets from the outer limits, hitting 11 of 24 attempts from 3-point range. North made 10 of 30 from the perimeter.

English has guided the Blue Devils to a 168-58 record over seven seasons. His guard-oriented offense is a joy to watch. With only one tall player, 6-foot-4 Logan Lyle, they’ve been competing against much bigger foes this year.

“Our players are unselfish,’’ English said. “We’re blessed to have kids who don’t care about individual statistics. Sometimes, they tend to overpass. We like an up-tempo and don’t mind players taking shots. We want the game to be fun.’’

Cameron Miller’s 25 points set the winning pace, Holden Tolley got 20 and Lyle had 16.

Unicoi County’s girls beat North 60-27. The Lady Raiders bolted to a 7-2 lead only to see the visitors run off the next 24 points.

Kayla Edwards and Rilie King each scored 11 and Emmie Thompson added 10 for the winners. Stephanie Crook’s six led North.

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