ELIZABETHTON — At this stage of the basketball season, senior leadership is a precious commodity.
Whitney Roberts and Reazyn DeMoss showed just how valuable it is, scoring 21 of Elizabethton's 25 second-half points as the Lady Cyclones held off Alcoa 45-36 in a Class AA girls sectional game Saturday night at Treadway Gym.
Improving to 28-4 on the season, the Lady Cyclones earned their third state tournament berth in the last five years. They will play Thursday in Murfreesboro, and will learn their opponent during today's blind draw.
“I told these girls back in October and November, they could be a special group,” said Elizabethton head coach Len Dugger. “The team two years ago was special, and the team two years prior to that was special. And I told these girls they could not only get there, but do something as far as winning once they got there. I'm so proud of all these kids.”
Alcoa saw its season end at 21-12.
After a mostly ugly first half where neither team played particularly well, the Lady Cyclones scored the first seven points of the second half to open up a 27-10 lead. Given Alcoa's offensive production to that point, it appeared a blowout was on the horizon.
However, the Lady Tornadoes started knocking down shots. And at the end of an 18-4 run that spanned the last two minutes of the third quarter and the first four of the fourth, Tiffanie Moore's 3-pointer made it 33-30.
At that point in the game, DeMoss — the Region 1-AA tournament's most valuable player — had not scored a single point. However, DeMoss drained a long two-pointer, and followed it with a trey ball. Then she scored and was fouled for an old-fashioned three-point play.
In the span of 1:26, DeMoss had authored an 11-point lead for the Cyclones.
“She just took it over,” said Dugger. “That's what great players do. They make great plays. Your seniors have to make plays.”
DeMoss said there were no negative or positive thoughts right before hitting her first bucket.
“Honestly I just caught the ball and shot it,” said DeMoss. “At the beginning of the game, my shot wasn't falling. But when they cut it to three points, I knew it was time to step up.”
Roberts got on track at the start of the third quarter. She had four points at the break, but scored 11 of Elizabethton's first 14 points in the second half.
“I missed some easy layups and was kicking myself in the butt,” said Roberts. “I started thinking this was the last game I would ever play here, and I think it turned out well.”
Moore hit another 3-pointer for Alcoa to make it 41-33, but Roberts calmly sank two free throws with 1:51 left to return the double-digit margin.
Roberts finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, 11 of which came in the first half. DeMoss finished with eight points and eight rebounds, six coming in the second half.
Freshman Kayla Marosites stepped up with a big game for the Lady Cyclones, totaling 13 points, three 3-pointers, six rebounds, and five second-half assists.
DeMoss said the Cyclones rallied together after early season injuries to Morgan Depew and Caley Hodge.
“We're all like one heartbeat,” said DeMoss. “We're all together.”
The Lady Tornadoes had the Cyclones' offense well-scouted, and consistently frustrated Elizabethton's attack.
“We went down for a week of camp at Alcoa, and we went to a Nov. 10 play day,” said Dugger. “The two of us have seen each other more than other teams around here.”
Dugger said he wasn't surprised by Alcoa's comeback.
“I knew from the Gatlinburg-Pittman situation,” said Dugger of the Region 2-AA semifinals. “Alcoa was down by 12 points and came back and hit a shot and forced overtime. I told our girls they wouldn't quit. But I think Reazyn just took their heart out.”
Alcoa was led in scoring by Katie Stubblefield, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Moore added 10 points and three assists.
The Lady Tornadoes lost starter Kayla Newman to injury in the opening minutes of the game, and she did not return.