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Union City erases bitter ’07 memory to remain perfect

Union City erases bitter ’07 memory to remain perfect
Instead of repeating history, Union City made some more.
The No. 1-ranked Tornadoes stretched their winning streak to a school-record 32 games and laid to rest the unpleasant past of their last loss with a 79-73 victory over seventh-ranked Lake County in the Region 7A Tournament semifinals Monday.
The win before a standing-room-only throng at Dresden High School puts UC not only into Thursday night’s regional title tilt against No. 2 Humboldt but also secures the Purple and Gold a spot in next Monday’s substate.
Another victory on Thursday against a Viking team it has already beaten three times this season would earn Union City host-rights for the substate round with the loser set to travel for that do-or-die contest.
H’boldt (26-3) punched its ticket for Thursday’s championship game and next week’s substate contest by thumping Halls 117-68 in Monday’s second semifinal.
Thursday’s championship matchup — again to be hosted by Dresden — has a 7 p.m. start time.
The only other team in UCHS history to have ever gone unbeaten this deep into a season prior to Monday night was the 1959-60 edition that won its first 31 games before losing in the state finals to Hampton 49-42.
The current group of Twisters not only bettered that streak by one, it also at least partially erased the bitter memory of last season when they saw their bid to repeat as 1A state champions come to an abrupt halt — as the state’s top-ranked team — with an upset loss to Humboldt at the identical postseason juncture.
There would be no repeat, however, of that heartbreaking loss on Monday as the Tornadoes beat LC (27-7) for a third time this year — but not without a struggle.
With their earlier two matchups decided by one and three points, respectively, and after the Falcons had led for much of those contests, UC was again in a familiar catch-up position for much of Monday’s game.
Down 59-58 with six minutes to play, the Tornadoes put together one of their trademark runs, scoring 13 of the next 15 points in a span of less than three minutes to jet in front 71-61 at the 3:17 mark.
Tony Wilkins, foul-plagued for much of the contest, proved to be a difference maker for the Twisters with seven of his 14 fourth-quarter points during that flurry. Included among Wilkins’ efforts was a one-handed dunk in transition that sent the Union City faithful into a frenzy.
Mr. Basketball finalist MJ Brown, who broke the hearts of the Falcons in UC’s two regular season victories with late-game heroics, had a huge hand in the Tornadoes’ deciding stretch, too. He gave his team a lead it wouldn’t lose with a short jumper with 5:37 to play, then later buried a 3-pointer and also dished out a pair of assists.
Union City head coach Shane Sisco lauded the play of Wilkins and also said he didn’t skirt the painful memory of last season’s stunning close when preparing his troops for the game.
“We reminded them of last year several times during practice,” Sisco claimed. “We’ve got seven seniors, and we told them that the two we had last year (Jeremy Simpson and Cedric Allen) would give anything to have the opportunity that they had to not let what happened then happen again tonight.
“I thought Tony Wilkins was just absolutely huge in the fourth quarter. He’s so athletic and, when we put him in the middle of their zone and got him the ball, he was aggressive at attacking the basket. He made several big shots and conversions in the paint.”
Poor shooting (8-of-35 3-pointers) helped dig the locals a double-digit hole in the second quarter as LC led by as much as 28-17 after a Carlos Young transition bucket with just under six minutes left before halftime.
UC, using its dogged end-to-end defensive pressure that ultimately made fatigue a huge factor in the contest, gradually chipped away, though, and actually caught and passed the Falcons at 37-35 just before the intermission.
Lavan Mosley had a pair of 3-pointers during the Twisters’ rally, Andre Coby made a couple of mid-range jumpers and Nik Brooks sank his only basket — a trey — to also contribute to the surge.
The third quarter was back-and-fourth with three ties and two lead changes along with a couple of unsightly stretches during which both teams missed on easy chances to enhance their respective status.
Brown did have 10 of his game-high 27 markers in the period.
Union City took a 54-53 lead into the stretch run but found itself down by three before the tandem of Wilkins and Brown took over. LC’s chances took a major hit when both Russell Avery and Channin Geanes fouled out in the final three minutes.
“I think the biggest thing between this and the other two games was that we got them to run up and down the floor some and got the game into the kind of pace we wanted,” Sisco added. “The more possessions we had, the more fatigue became a factor, and the more foul trouble they had became important, too.
“I know a lot of people were drawing comparisons between this game and last year, but the biggest difference is we never got over the hump last year. This year, we didn’t panic when we got down by 10 or 11 in the first half, and we did finally get over the hump. When we did, we played with a great deal of confidence.”
Following Brown, Wilkins had 16, Mosley 14 and Coby 10 to give the Twisters a quartet of double-figure scorers. Young topped Lake County with 21 points and Channin Geanes chipped in with 18.
UC ended up causing 23 turnovers, while committing just nine itself. The Tornadoes were out-rebounded 46-43, but did chase down 22 offensive caroms.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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