(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
GREENEVILLE — It was a much-anticipated game, and Elizabethton responded like champions.
The Lady Cyclones, slotted behind Grainger all season in the state poll, whipped the top-ranked Grizzlies 77-51 to win the Region 1-AA girls basketball championship at Hal Henard Gym on Wednesday night.
Elizabethton improved to 8-0 in region championship games, dating back to 2004.
“I'm very blessed and fortunate to be a part of a great group of kids,” said Cyclones' head coach Len Dugger.
It was the Lady Cyclones' second straight region-title win over Grainger, and the fourth postseason win over the Grizzlies since 2009.
Improving to 28-3 on the season, Elizabethton earned a home sectional game Saturday at 7 p.m. against Christian Academy of Knoxville (20-13).
Grainger (28-5) will travel to face Knox Fulton, an 81-76 winner over CAK in overtime.
Sophomore Kayla Marosites was chosen as the tournament's most valuable player after finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds and four 3-pointers in the final. She said her team played with confidence and played together.
“We knew we could do it,” said Kayla. “Any time we put our mind to it, we know we can get it done.”
The Cyclones built a 12-point halftime lead at 38-26, and then pretty much put the game away with a strong third quarter that gave them an 18-point edge heading into the final period.
“Coach Dugger told us at halftime to come out and not let them get back in it,” said Kayla.
Marosites was a big part of the Cyclones' 30-16 advantage on the glass.
“Kayla goes and gets so many rebounds, and so many loose balls,” said Dugger. “We all know she can shoot and score, but it's hard to put a value on the little things she does.
“And everybody who went in the game made some kind of contribution. I've never seen as many hearts with one beat.”
Kelci Marosites also had a strong effort for Elizabethton, finishing with 15 points, five assists, and three 3-pointers.
“The point guards were penetrating and kicking it out, and we were able to get our shots off,” said Kelci. “I felt like if we played the way we're capable of playing, we could beat them.”
Elizabethton jumped on Grainger immediately, winning the opening tip and getting a 15-footer from Kayla Marosites. The Lady Cyclones forced a turnover with its fullcourt press, and Kelci Marosites drained a 3-pointer.
It was a sign of things to come. Elizabethton would go on to knock down 11 of 18 shots from behind the arc.
“We were shooting before the game, and I told Coach (Richard) Hyder, 'My goodness, if we shoot it half as well in the game we will give them a run for their money,” said Dugger.
Grainger battled back to 14-12 at the end of the first quarter, but Kayla Marosites hit a trey to start the second quarter. She followed it with a bucket, and then Kelci ripped a trey ball. Suddenly it was 22-12.
Grainger peeked back into the game as Amber Farmer hit a pair of treys, but Emily Kiser went on a shooting spree for the Lady Cyclones. She pulled the rip cord on three trey deliveries in a two-minute span to keep Grainger at bay.
Kelci Marsoites' 3-ball sent Elizabethton into the locker room with a 38-26 lead.
It was more trey fun for the Cyclones in the third quarter with back-to-back 3-snacks from Kayla Marosites, making it 51-32 with 3:37 left in the quarter — and Grainger got no closer than 16 the rest of the way.
Sarah Bradley finished with five points and five assists. Kiser totaled 12 points, coming on four trey balls.
The Lady Cyclones are 297-68 since the 2003-04 season, an average record of 27-6.
Grainger got 19 points from Allison Hodge, but no other players reached double figures.
“Elizabethton got every loose ball, and every rebound,” said Grainger head coach Justin Combs. “Any time they missed a shot, which wasn't that often, they got the rebound and put it back in. They were just more physical than we were tonight.
“They jumped out 5-0, and my kids never did recover. You would like to think a senior-laden team could have handled it better.”