ELIZABETHTON — It has taken a little time and some seasoning, but Elizabethton is finally coming of age.
The senior-dominated Cyclones, who wasted a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against Sullivan East in their last meeting, kept the foot on the gas this time and beat the Patriots 55-46 in the District 1-AA basketball championship at Treadway Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
It was the first district title for the Cyclones since 2003, and it came under first-year head coach Lucas Honeycutt.
“I'm very thankful the kids are healthy and they are playing well,” said Honeycutt. “They listen, and we don't have any problems.”
Elizabethton improved to 22-6 and will play host to Cumberland Gap in Friday's regional quarterfinal. Sullivan East, which entered as the top-seeded team after an undefeated run through the conference in the regular season, fell to 24-7 and will play host to Greeneville.
“Elizabethton played great and we played so uptight,” said East head coach John Dyer. “We played not to lose, and we've been doing that for a while now.”
In the third-place game, Sullivan North blew away Happy Valley, 63-38. The Raiders will travel to play Grainger while the Warriors will visit District 2-AA champ Chuckey-Doak.
After a sluggish first half that ended with the Cyclones leading 19-17, Elizabethton took control in the third quarter. The Cyclones opened the period with a 13-4 run for a double-digit lead.
Zeke Clark, who earned tournament most valuable player honors, played a key role throughout the game. He finished with 15 points, four rebounds, eight assists and a pair of steals.
“Zeke is not talked about a lot, but he is tremendous,” said Honeycutt. “I can't say enough good things about him.”
Clark said the Cyclones weren't about to let the lead slip away this time.
“I think we've played with a big chip on our shoulders ever since that game,” said Clark. “We're like a totally different team. This time instead of helping them get back in the game, we stepped on them and put an end to it.”
Michael Wagner, a 6-9 senior, also came up big for the Cyclones, scoring eight of his 12 points in the third quarter despite the presence of East's 6-9 post, Jonathan King.
“Coach Honeycutt told me to get in there, and said I could score on them,” said Wagner. “And Zeke made great passes. I can't believe some of those passes. He deserved the MVP.”
Alex Baughman also played a pivotal role. When East was trying to sneak back into contention in the fourth quarter, Baughman dropped two 3-point bombs. He finished with 10 points.
Zach Norwood did his usual thing, scoring 10 points, grabbing four rebounds, and dishing out five assists. He also played tough defense on East's David Casaday.
Aaron Miller added eight points and six rebounds.
East got a powerful 11-point, 17-rebound effort from King. Casaday added 16 points with six rebounds, and hit four of his team's nine trey balls.
Sullivan North 63
Happy Valley 38
Chase Arnold got hot for the Raiders late in the first quarter and that was pretty much it for the Warriors.
Arnold had 11 of his game-high 22 points in the first period as the Raiders used a 14-0 run to build a 22-7 lead. North stretched its advantage to 35-17 at halftime, and continued to build it during the third quarter.
Holden Dalton was on target from 3-point land for North, draining five trey balls and finishing with 15 points.
Josh Price was the lone bright spot for Happy Valley, which fell to 5-23 on the season. Price totaled 23 points.