Union County wins third straight

Union County's Tamia Young and St. Francis's Allie Dey
Union County's Tamia Young (left) led the Tigers with 10 points and St. Francis's Allie Dey had a game-high 17 points on Friday in Union County's 31-30 win. (File photos by C.J. Gish)
File photos by C.J. Gish

One of the area’s most improved girls basketball teams since the start of the season might be Union County (Lake Butler).

The Lady Tigers were outscored 57-1 in the season opener at Bradford (Starke) and were 0-10 a week ago.

Following a 31-30 come-from-behind win at home on Friday night against St. Francis Catholic Academy, they’ve won three in a row.

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“To be honest, at first, it looked kind of rough,” said second-year Union County coach Teyona Paige. “Pretty much we needed a leader. Tamia (Young) did a great job as far as encouraging her team and letting them know we could still win it.”

Down 30-29, Young scored on a layup with 18 seconds to play to rally Union County (3-10) from a 9-point first half deficit. She finished with a team-high 10 points.

“I’m really proud of her,” Paige said. “She has really stepped up, especially since the first game. I’ve seen her grow within the sport of basketball as well as her leadership skills, it’s beyond us.”

A key block by fellow senior Josilyn Jenkins, who played great defense all night, helped set up the game-winner.

“Oh yeah, that’s my girl,” Paige said. “I’ve got to give it to her. We had to sit her down early because of the fouls, she was in foul trouble (three in the first half), but she was looking at me like, ‘Coach, are you going to put me in?’ I said as long as you go in the game and don’t foul anybody, go ahead.”

Her presence made a big difference in the post.

Turnovers were costly for both teams, including a critical St. Francis turnover on a failed sideline inbounds, which wasted no time off the clock and led to Young’s game-winner.

“That’s been our Achilles heel this year is turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds,” said first-year St. Francis coach Josh Kerkau. “Those two areas have cost of us several close games this year.”

In Thursday night’s loss at home against Oak Hall, Lexy Bhatia scored 17 of the team’s 19 total points, with freshman Allie Dey scoring the other two.

It was a reversal of fortunes for the pair as Bhatia didn’t score her first points until 1:57 remained in the first half, which gave the Wolves a 14-11 lead. She finished with nine.

Fortunately for St. Francis, Dey scored eight points in the opening quarter and finished with a game-high 17 points.

The freshman sank two free throws with 1:15 remaining to give the Wolves their last lead at 30-29.

“Union County has gotten better,” Kerkau said. “They’ve improved and they’re on a 3-game win streak now. And they deserved to win the game. They made the plays at the end, she made the basket when she needed to, so that was pretty big, but I thought when my freshman went to the line and made the two free throws, which was a pressure situation, I thought we had it.”

Bhatia had back-to-back baskets to give the Class 2A Wolves (10-8) their largest lead of the game, 27-18, in the second quarter. However, Union County forced turnovers and outscored St. Francis, 14-9, in the third quarter to tie the game at 27-all entering the final quarter.

“I told my team in the locker room it came down to that one turnover at the end but there was like 15 to16 things that led up to that point, that if we do any two or three of those correctly, and the game is completely different,” Kerkau said.

Next week will mark the end of the regular season for girls basketball.

St. Francis will host Chiefland at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, while Union County will play at Keystone Heights on Monday at 7 p.m.

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