Rangers move on to region

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, February 19, 2019

KINGSPORT – For three-quarters of the District 1A boys basketball game, it looked like a blowout win for the Unaka Rangers. The Cloudland Highlanders refused to see it that way however and made a strong fourth quarter push to nearly erase a huge Ranger lead.

“We didn’t see it that way,” Rangers head coach Aaron Dugger said when asked about his team blowing out Cloudland. “With Harrison coaching with Blair, Leeper, and Shell you just can’t. They have been banged up most of the year and they had to have a next man up mentality. I told my guys that nice guys weren’t going to win this one. We took a good shot and kept playing.”

The ‘Landers fell three points short of a miracle comeback as Unaka held on for a 63-60 win at J. Richard Carroll gymnasium.

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An 15-1 run to open the second period saw Unaka extend to a 31-14 lead with 6:04 left until the half. A pair of free throws from Hunter Shell stopped the bleeding for Cloudland.

In the second period the Rangers connected on four 3-balls – two from senior forward John Ramsey and one each from Ryan Johnson and Will Sexton as Unaka ran out to a 36-21 halftime lead.

Ramsey led all scorers with 10 first-half points with Austin Drew and Robert Leeper each contributing seven points to the Rangers and ‘Landers respectively. The Rangers led 16-13 after one period with Johnson and Austin Drew each good for a long ball.

The ‘Landers were only able to shave two points off the 15-point Unaka lead and trailed 50-37 going into the final period. In the period Isaac Hill scored five for the Rangers while Conor Birchfield had the same for Cloudland.

Unaka – whose biggest lead was 17 – saw it’s lead begin to shrink in the face of Cloudland defensive pressure and small ‘Lander runs. The ‘Landers had a 6-0 run after an Unaka free throw to open the fourth quarter and then a 7-1 run to cut the Rangers lead to 55-50 with 3:31 remaining.

With 23.5 left Shell connected on a long trey to make it a 60-59 contest. With the score standing at 61-59, Hill hit two free throws to make it a four-point game and young guard Joseph Rasnick inexplicably fouled Blair beyond the arc for three free throws. Blair missed the first making the comeback futile.

“I feel good for the kids,” Dugger said. “The way they came in and bought into the program and worked in the weight room, I told them they made me like coaching again. Now for our reward, we get UH on a short turnaround. Go figure.”