ELIZABETHTON — It was unfamiliar territory for Elizabethton, but the Cyclones played like it was old hat.
Elizabethton's senior class earned its first district basketball tournament victory, hammering Happy Valley 68-42 in the 1-AA semifinals Saturday night at Treadway Gymnasium.
“It's just a big weight off our shoulders,” said Elizabethton's Will Robinson. “We always had to play in an elimination game, but having a bye allowed us to clam down and play our game.”
The Cyclones (21-6) earned a berth in Tuesday's championship game at 8 p.m., where they will meet Sullivan East (24-6). The top-seeded Patriots avoided the upset, beating Sullivan North 56-54.
In girls' semifinal action, Happy Valley ran away from cold-shooting Unicoi County for a 47-28 upset of the top-seeded team. Also, Elizabethton overcame a sluggish start and pounded Sullivan East, 60-36.
Elizabethton (23-4) will play Happy Valley (13-13) for the district title Monday at 8 p.m. It will be Happy Valley's first appearance in the championship since 1996.
Saturday's winners, for both the boys and girls, earned home games for the first round of the regional tournament, which begins next weekend. Saturday's losers will travel for the quarterfinal contests.
One night after pulling off a 53-51 upset of Unicoi County, Happy Valley's boys managed to hang around for a quarter against Elizabethton. However, the Cyclones slapped the Warriors with an 16-4 run to start the second quarter.
The Cyclones did a lot of damage by attacking the Warriors' as they dribbled.
“That was getting back to the basics of what we've wanted to do all season, getting pressure on the ball,” said Cyclones' first-year head coach Lucas Honeycutt. “We did a good job of that.”
The Cyclones put the game away in the third quarter, hitting the Warriors with 7-0 and 8-0 runs during the period.
Zeke Clark led the way for Elizabethton. The junior point guard had 17 points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals. Robinson totaled 15 points and five rebounds.
Robinson said the victory started with defense.
“When we press well, we get easy shots,” said Robinson. “Playing defense and rebounding were the big things.”
Josh Price led the Warriors (5-23) with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Happy Valley (girls) 47
Unicoi County 28
The Lady Blue Devils couldn't buy a bucket, and Mackenzie Blankenship couldn't miss. The combination was a disaster for Unicoi County.
“We came out with good attitudes, and I thought we executed better than we have all year,” said Blankenship, who finished with 24 points. “We were patient on offense. I thought every shot we took was a pretty good look. We didn't force anything.”
That was especially true for Blankenship, who scored 15 points in the first half but wasn't forcing up shots in a scoreless third quarter. She connected on three 3-pointers in the game, none bigger than the one with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Lady Warriors a 34-23 lead.
Kalee Johnson also had a huge impact for Happy Valley. She scored only five points, but defended well in the paint and totaled 11 rebounds as the Warriors outrebounded the bigger Lady Blue Devils, 30-28.
“Kalee did a job and a half on the boards,” said Happy Valley head coach Larry Abel.
Happy Valley struggled to get past Johnson County on Friday, winning 43-42, but held Unicoi County to single digits in every quarter.
“I told you at the first of the year to watch out for the Lady Warriors at tournament time,” said Abel.
Point guard Shalee Perry added nine points for the Warriors.
“I can't say enough about Shalee,” said Abel. “She stepped up and handled the ball, and got it to Mackenzie, KJ and the others.”
Unicoi was led in scoring by Emily Edwards, who finished with 13 points. Chelsey Harness added 11 points while Destinie Hayes had nine rebounds.
Elizabethton (girls) 60
Sullivan East 36
Freshmen twins Kayla and Kelci Marosites did a number on the Lady Patriots, combining for 31 points, 12 rebounds and six steals.
Kayla had 20 points, including a 14-point first half.
“They come in and just play,” said Lady Cyclones' head coach Len Dugger. “I thought did a great deal trying to neutralize Whitney (Roberts) and Reazyn (DeMoss), and (the Marosites) made shots. And what goes unnoticed are the deflections, the 50-50 balls, the big rebounds, and stuff like that, which is huge.”
East led 16-9 midway through the second quarter, but the Cyclones went to an aggressive fullcourt press and ripped off an 18-2 run.
“Really I think that's just what we have to do,” said Dugger. “We've got to play defense at a high level. When everything is said and done, we've got to defend.”
Sarah Bradley totaled 10 points for Elizabethton.
East (20-10) got 11 points from Savanna Summers. Tori James added nine points and eight rebounds.
Sullivan East 56
Sullivan North 54
The Patriots got what they wanted: time running down in a tie game with the ball in David Casaday's hands.
Casaday, who hit a 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining to put East ahead after trailing the entire game, got fouled with 5.3 seconds to go and made both free throws.
Chase Arnold, who missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity in the final minute, missed a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“The guys believe, no doubt,” said East head coach John Dyer of his team's late comeback. “You can't put a price on tournament wins.”
Casaday led East with 21 points while Jon King added 16.
North got 17 from Arnold and 14 from Grayson Ball. Hunter Jones made four important 3-pointers and finished with 12 points.