ELIZABETHTON — Happy Valley provided a tough exam, but Elizabethton answered every question.
The Lady Cyclones finally got some breathing room late in the third quarter, and then held on for a 53-42 victory in the District 1-AA girls basketball championship at Treadway Gymnasium on Monday night.
“This whole season has been a process,” said Elizabethton head coach Len Dugger. “I'm surprised at this group of young ladies. They came back after the (regular season) loss to Unicoi determined to put this team back together. And they became a good team.”
Elizabethton improved to 24-4 and will play host to West Greene or Chuckey-Doak in Friday's region quarterfinal contest.
Happy Valley, which was playing in its first district title game since 1996, fell to 13-14. The Warriors will also play host on Friday, taking on Chuckey-Doak or West Greene.
In the third-place game, Sullivan East surprised Unicoi County 54-52. The Lady Patriots will travel to take on South Greene on Friday while Unicoi County has the unenviable task of facing undefeated Grainger (30-0) on the road.
Elizabethton freshman Kayla Marosites walked away with most valuable player honors. She had 20 points in the semifinals and came back with 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals in the title game.
“Most of the time you think all-tournament teams are for older kids,” said Dugger. “But the way Happy Valley defended (seniors) Reazyn (DeMoss) and Whitney (Roberts), we had to get some open looks. I'm glad we knocked our fair share down.”
Marosites, who has joined with twin sister Kelci to give the Cyclones that little something extra since losing point guard Morgan Depew to injury, said the MVP honor wasn't hers alone.
“It feels great to get it, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates,” said Kayla. “I think the reason we won tonight was because we worked together as a team and played hard.”
It wasn't easy. With Mackenzie Blankenship heating up early, the Lady Warriors stood toe to toe with the Cyclones for 2½ quarters. In fact, Happy Valley led 30-28 midway through the third quarter.
However, Sarah Bradley tied the game with a bucket, and Kelci Marosites put the Lady Cyclones ahead with 2:25 to go in the period. That was the start of a 9-0 run, giving Elizabethton a 37-30 lead.
The Lady Warriors didn't back down. Shalee Perry drilled a trey ball and then hit another 3-score early in the fourth quarter to make it 39-36.
But Bradley scored again, and DeMoss followed with a clutch 3-pointer to give the Cyclones a 44-36 advantage.
Perry hit another 3-swish with 3:03 remaining to keep Happy Valley's hopes alive, but the Cyclones scored the last seven points — despite making only 7 of 13 free throws in the final 2:48.
Elizabethton was led in scoring by DeMoss, who totaled 13 points and added six rebounds. In an ironic twist, Kelci Marosites had nearly identical stats to her twin sister with 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Whitney Roberts added eight points and six rebounds while Bradley had five assists.
Overall it was a well-rounded balanced effort for the Lady Cyclones.
“I preach team, team, team,” said Dugger. “What we do is all about team. It's not about a superstar.”
Happy Valley head coach Larry Abel said he was proud of his girls.
“I was very proud of their effort,” he said. “Things didn't bounce our way in the fourth quarter, and we lost some matchups and they knocked down shots. But we battled and played so hard. I couldn't ask for anything more.”
Blankenship finished with 18 points, but didn't score in the game's final 12 minutes. Perry totaled 17 points, 13 in the second half, and led the Warriors with seven rebounds.
Sullivan East 54
Unicoi County 52
Trailing by 17 points late in the third quarter, the Lady Patriots were staring at a fourth-place finish.
However, they came to life with a 24-4 run and then made the plays down the stretch.
Savanna Summers hit a jumper to put East ahead 52-50 with 37 seconds left. Unicoi's Chelsey Harness answered with two free throws with 26 seconds remaining.
East tried to hold for the last shot, and Brandy Watkins was fouled with 6.2 seconds to go. The freshman made two free throws, and Unicoi turned the ball over as time expired.
The Patriots were able to keep going even after the big comeback.
“I think we were playing hard the whole game,” said East head coach Allan Aubrey. “So when we got over the hump, it allowed us to just keep playing the way we were.”
Summers led East (21-10) with 14 points while Watkins totaled 12. Brittany Scott had a huge effort on the boards, totaling 15 rebounds.
Unicoi County was led by Emily Edwards with 14 points. Chelsey Harness added 12. Destinie Hayes pounded the glass for 16 rebounds.