ELIZABETHTON — When Happy Valley’s Tyler Marlowe tripped as he dribbled into the lane and threw the ball back over his head — and it went in the basket with 57 seconds left in the game — Unicoi County was in big trouble.
When the final buzzer sounded, one of the more shocking upsets in District 1-AA tournament history saw the Warriors walk out of Treadway Gym on Friday night with a 53-51 victory over the Blue Devils.
“These kids deserved something good to happen to them,” said Happy Valley head coach Chuck Babb. “They came out and practiced hard and played hard every day.”
It was just the fifth win of the season for the sixth-seeded Warriors (5-22). Meanwhile, it was a season-ending loss for third-seeded Unicoi County, which had been to the Class AA sectional for six straight seasons.
Happy Valley advanced to play Elizabethton today at 5:30 in the semifinals.
In Friday’s other quarterfinal, Sullivan North pulled away late and eliminated Johnson County with a 54-36 decision. The Raiders will take on top-seeded Sullivan East tonight at 8:30.
In the girls quarterfinal contest, Happy Valley got a four-foot bank shot from Shalee Perry with two seconds left to give it a 43-42 come-from-behind win over Johnson County.
The Lady Warriors (12-13) earned a berth in the region tournament, and will take on top-seeded Unicoi County tonight at 7 o’clock. Sullivan East meets Elizabethton in the other semifinal at 4 p.m.
Even though Happy Valley’s boys defeated Unicoi County 66-49 in the Hardee’s Classic back in November, it was their only win over a Class AA team all season. And the Blue Devils handled them by double-digit margins in two conference matchups — where the Warriors posted a record of 0-10.
Fast forward to Friday night, and the Blue Devils appeared to be taking control of the game in the third quarter. But Bailey changed the momentum with a trey ball to make it 35-33. That touched off an 11-2 run, and the Warriors took a 43-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
However, it wasn’t until Marlowe’s shot that the tables really turned. His improbable bucket gave Happy Valley a 51-49 lead with less than a minute left. The Blue Devils managed to tie the game 22 seconds later on Connor Simpson’s second straight basket.
Happy Valley held for the last shot, and Bailey was knocked to the floor as he attempted a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining.
“I thought it was going in,” said Bailey of the shot. “He hit me after the shot.”
Bailey then faced the tough walk to the free throw line.
“Out of the five on the floor, he was probably our worst free throw shooter, percentage-wise,” said Babb. “He came up big and buried two of them. When he made the first one, I took a deep breath. That was crucial.”
Bailey missed the second and made the third one. Unicoi called timeout and passed to midcourt, and then called another timeout with 1.7 seconds left.
Then Happy Valley made a crucial mistake. Ethan Rice was trying to take the in-bounds pass running away from the basket between the 3-point line and midcourt. At best, Rice would have had time for a catch, dribble and turnaround 35-footer with his momentum going away from the basket.
However, a hustling Josh Price fouled Rice going for the steal — giving Rice an one-and-one opportunity and a chance for the tie.
“It seemed like it was in slow motion,” said Babb. “You’re in a movie, and you’re yelling, ‘Nooooo!”
Rice missed the front end, and then Happy Valley made another mistake — missing a box out and allowing Unicoi a desperation tip that missed the mark at the buzzer.
Bailey led the Warriors with 13 points while Price added 12 and Marlowe totaled 10.
“We came out and we executed everything great,” said Bailey. “They came out confident, and we were the underdog. I feel like when we’re the underdog, it’s a better excuse to play hard.”
Unicoi got 13 points from Keith Arrowood and 12 from Simpson.
Happy Valley (girls) 43
Johnson County 42
The Lady Longhorns pretty much controlled the game from the second quarter until the final two minutes.
However, the last 1:37 turned into a nightmare.
Annie Woods steered home a long 3-pointer to cut the Longhorns’ lead to 42-38, and Mackenzie Blankenship, who was scoreless until the fourth quarter, ripped the nets from trey land to pull Happy Valley within one point with 1:02 to go.
The Warriors had a chance to take the lead, but turned the ball over with 21 seconds left. They then fouled Johnson County three times to force the bonus, and Mary Taylor missed a free throw with 14.9 seconds remaining. However, the Warriors turned the ball over after the rebound.
Sarah Swift then missed a one-and-one opportunity with 9.6 seconds to go, and Kalee Johnson rebounded. She passed to Perry, who went the distance and attacked the rim.
“Our girls never give up,” said Happy Valley head coach Larry Abel. “All year when we’ve had our backs against the wall, we’ve played some of our best basketball. I told Shalee to get to the rim and finish it, and she did.”
Perry finished with 17 points to lead Happy Valley. Johnson had six points and 10 rebounds.
The Longhorns were left to think about 2-of-9 shooting from the free throw line.
“That’s the bottom line,” said Longhorns’ head coach Todd Whittemore. “And we turned it over way too much.”
Also, Johnson County struggled to rebound down the stretch after controlling the boards early.
“That was very painful to watch,” said Whittemore. “We took the easy way out and didn’t box out and rebound.”
Johnson County got a nice night from Brooke Brown, who had 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Taylor added 10 points.
Sullivan North 54
Johnson County 36
After a very slow start because he was hounded by Ryan Mahala, Chase Arnold broke loose and finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Raiders.
It was 35-30 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Raiders opened with an 11-2 run to take a commanding lead.
Grayson Ball added 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Raiders.
Brian Dempsey had a strong evening for Johnson County, finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds.