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Lady Devils’ seniors propel Unicoi to victory over South

By STEVE WILMOTH TriCitiesSports.com • Feb 16, 2017 at 11:14 PM

ERWIN — Experience trumped youth Thursday evening in Unicoi County’s 64-44 victory over Sullivan South in the first round of the District 1-AA girls basketball tournament at the Lady Devils’ Den.

The win sends Unicoi County (9-18) against top-seeded Sullivan East Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Third-seeded Happy Valley overwhelmed No. 6 Johnson County 79-41 in the first game of the night. The Lady Warriors will face No. 2 Elizabethton in the first semifinal Saturday at 4:00 p.m.

Behind seniors Neelee Griffith and Halie Padgett and junior Kenedy King, the Lady Devils built a 19-10 advantage late in the first quarter. A South free throw from freshman McKenzie Littleton and a putback of her miss on the second by Nicole Troutman trimmed the deficit to 19-13 going to the second stanza.

The veteran Lady Devils trio pushed the lead back to 24-13 at one point and to 29-20 with a minute left before intermission.

But buoyed by sophomore Carissa Comsa, the Lady Rebels whittled the lead down to five, 30-25, at halftime. With Unicoi dominating the glass, Comsa entered and promptly grabbed five rebounds and scored four points in an energetic second quarter.

“Carissa just makes things happen out of pure hustle,” said South coach Torey Haile. “We use her as an example of what happens when you do that.”

The momentum proved to be short-lived, however, as Unicoi County outscored the Lady Rebels 14-1 to start the third quarter in opening a 44-26 cushion. Three straight Lady Rebels turnovers led to six straight points from Padgett, with two of the senior’s three field goals in the span coming on offensive putbacks.

Padgett scored 10 of her game-high 25 points in the third period.

“Unicoi County has three really good seniors, and they kind of took over and did what they needed to do and we didn’t handle it that well,” added Haile.

Padgett finished a rebound shy of a double-double while Griffith pumped in seven points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists. King tossed in nine points while sophomore point guard Kaylee Hendrickson dropped in five points, grabbed five boards and handed out five assists.

The Lady Blue Devils finished with a 40-28 advantage on the glass and finished with 15 assists to South’s three while forcing 15 Lady Rebels turnovers.

South (9-18) stayed in the game in the first half by sinking 14-of-25 free throw attempts. The Lady Rebels finished with just 10 field goals but sank 22-of-36 tosses at the foul line.

Littleton paced South with 10 points. Sophomore Mollie Leslie chipped in with nine while Comsa and sophomore Maddie Townsend netted six apiece.

“We’d love to have our only senior, Malayna Johnson, back next year,” noted Haile. “But these girls returning can do something special if they decide to, and I think they will.”

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