AFTON — Looking a little like a Science Hill-type team, Sullivan East dominated from start to finish.
After four very close games between the teams this season with each winning twice, the Patriots forced Unicoi County into a sea of turnovers and ran away for a 60-35 win in the Region 1-AA championship at Chuckey-Doak’s gym on Thursday night.
“It was about the best I’ve ever had a team play, especially under the circumstances,” said East head coach John Dyer, who has been on the bench for 28 years. “We were just relentless. We played great basketball against a great opponent.”
It was the second region title in three years for East, which improved to 25-8 and will play host to Alcoa on Monday at 7 p.m.
For Unicoi County, a road trip to Crossville awaits. The Blue Devils (28-5) will play at Stone Memorial, which defeated Alcoa 58-54.
After games with margins of between four and seven points, the rubber match figured to be another close one. It was just 10-8 in favor of East at the end of the first quarter despite eight turnovers by the Blue Devils.
But in the second quarter, it was an East feeding frenzy. The Patriots drained five 3-pointers and walked into the locker room with a 33-17 advantage.
Then they started the third quarter with an 8-3 edge and the game was basically over.
Unicoi County head coach John English said he expected his team to respond after the lackluster first half.
“At halftime we expected to come out and make a run,” said English. “But they had an answer. It’s my job to have us ready, and we just didn’t make a push.”
As good as East played, Unicoi seemed to match it in the other direction.
“We were on the opposite end of that for sure,” said English. “They played at a championship-game level, and we did not. And they had a lot to do with why we didn’t.”
Tournament most valuable player David Casaday had been held in check by Unicoi defensive stopper Issac Harris in previous meetings, but this time Casaday scored 12 of his 15 points by halftime.
“(Harris) had really guarded him so well,” said Dyer. “But David came out and played well tonight. He is a really good basketball player.”
Casaday said the Patriots played well because there was a lot on the line: a region title and home-court advantage for the sectional.
“We’ve been playing great lately and everybody has been playing together as a team,” said Casaday. “I’m so proud of the way we played. Coach preaches defense, defense, defense, and here lately we’ve been trying to play nothing but defense.”
Unicoi had 17 turnovers and made only 12 of 49 shots from the field for 24 percent. The Blue Devils were 1 of 13 from 3-point land.
In contrast, East was 24 of 49 from the field for 49 percent. East also outrebounded Unicoi, 36-34.
Jonathan King totaled 11 points and nine rebounds for East. Daniel Truett had 10 points. Chance Davis had seven points, putting him over 1,000 for his career.
“That’s a pretty awesome thing on this night,” said Dyer.
Unicoi was led in scoring by Trevor Shelton, who had 12 points. Connor Simpson had eight points and 11 rebounds while Austin Hensley had seven points and 10 rebounds.