CAK presents challenge for Lady Cyclones in sectional

Douglas Fritz • Feb 28, 2014 at 9:58 PM

Sarah Bradley was the only Elizabethton player in high school the last time the Lady Cyclones faced Anna Hammaker and Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Hammaker, then in eighth grade, led the home-standing Lady Warriors to a 60-57 upset of the 2010-11 Elizabethton team that entered with a record of 27-0.

This time, the Lady Cyclones will play host to CAK with a lot more on the line. It's a Class AA girls sectional basketball game, scheduled for tonight at 7 o'clock at Treadway Gym.

Elizabethton, the Region 1-AA champion, enters with a record of 28-3. CAK, the Region 2-AA runner-up, stands at 20-13.

It is the eighth sectional home game for the Lady Cyclones since 2004. They are seeking their fifth trip to the state tournament.

In a Class A sectional contest, also starting at 7 p.m., Cloudland seeks its third straight trip to the state tournament as it plays host to Meigs County. Also in Class A, North Greene hits the road to take on Knoxville Grace Christian.

Elizabethton hasn't been seriously challenged since a Jan. 3 loss to Class AAA power Science Hill. That includes a 77-51 whipping of top-ranked Grainger in Wednesday's region-title game.

However, the Lady Cyclones can point toward a tough schedule that included a pair of meetings with Science Hill and a tournament in South Carolina.

“I think that means a great deal, playing against probably one of the two premier teams in the state,” said Elizabethton head coach Len Dugger. “And it's a shame Science Hill isn't playing (tonight). They ran into misfortune, but they are a good team and we didn't see many weaknesses.

“The teams in South Carolina were athletic and all were well-coached. The biggest reason we went to play those games was to put us in a situation to get us tournament ready.”

As for Hammaker, the daughter of former ETSU baseball standout and major-leaguer Atlee Hammaker, the junior is averaging close to 19 points per game.

“Obviously she has been on the varsity since eighth grade, so she's a veteran now by far,” said Dugger. “I think she's the player most of their offense goes through, and a very heady player. I think we've got to do the best possible job defending her, but they've got other kids who can put it in the basket also.”

Kaycee Heitzman averages about 12 per game while Kelsey Naler and Brianna Bryant are close to double figures. Naler is a 6-1 post who can shoot the three.

“I think we have to defend (CAK), but I think for the most part we've defended almost everyone we've played,” said Dugger. “Our kids don't mind getting down and playing defense.

“We will just go with what we do well and go play. We need to play our game and hopefully play well enough to create concern for CAK.”

Elizabethton counters CAK with Kayla Marosites and Kelci Marosites, who combine to average about 30 points per game. Kayla gets about 16 a contest.

But it's more than the Marosites as the Lady Cyclones have a deep roster. Bradley is solid at the point guard position while Sarah Robinson and Megan Pietrowski are threats in the post. And Emily Kiser often provides a quick scoring spark off the bench.

Dugger said he's hoping for a big crowd.

“I wish our people would really come out,” said Dugger. “We've been blessed and fortunate to have great fan support. I think it will be a huge crowd.”

Meigs County (31-4) at Cloudland (31-5) — It wasn't supposed to be this way as these teams both figured to be playing host for sectional games.

But the Lady Tigers suffered a pair of postseason one-point losses to Knoxville Grace Christian, including 56-55 in the Region 2-A final.

“Their league is a lot like ours,” said Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield. “They played each other four times, and both championship games came down to the buzzer.”

Meigs is led by Emileigh Swafford, a career 2,000-point scorer, who is averaging 23 points per game this season. She is a 6-foot-1 senior guard.

“She's quite a player,” said Birchfield. “It could cause us a matchup problem, guarding their perimeter. They are athletic and good-sized.”

Meigs has experience and likes to play fast, said Birchfield.

“They are a very seasoned team,” he said. “They have four seniors who have played since they were freshmen. They've got a lot of speed, and love the transition game. We have to play defense and stop transition.”

Other key players include Taylor Boggess (13 points per game) and Brandi Kilpatrick (10 points per game).

Cloudland answers with senior post Courtney Wilson, who is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Senior guard Courtney Clarke contributes 14 points and three assists per contest. Kendal Mull chips in with nine points per contest.

Birchfield said the Lady Highlanders need to work the ball into the paint consistently.

“I think we have to attack inside, and I think we can do that some,” said Birchfield.

One good thing about playing Meigs at this stage is it's better than trying to beat the Lady Tigers in Murfreesboro.

“I would much rather play them in Roan Mountain with a home gym, home crowd, and great atmosphere,” said Birchfield. “I think that will be a big advantage for us.”

If Cloudland wins, defense will likely be the reason.

“Our team defense has been better late in the season,” said Birchfield. “And offensively we've been more balanced. Our bench has been giving us better play, and that has helped down the stretch.”

North Greene (24-11) at Grace Christian (21-9) — Standout guard Mendy McNeese and the Lady Huskies seek to return to the state tournament for the first time in three years.

McNeese helped North Greene finish as state runner-up as a freshman, but the Lady Huskies lost in the regional semifinals each of the last two seasons.

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