BLUFF CITY — Second-place is a good place to be heading into mid-February's district basketball tournaments in Tennessee, and now Elizabethton's boys and Sullivan East's girls are both sitting pretty in the Three Rivers Conference.
The two schools met Friday night at the Dyer Dome with second place — and the automatic region berth that goes with it — at stake, with Elizabethton's boys claiming a 58-46 win and the East girls scooping up a 54-43 victory.
"Second gets an automatic bye to the (district) semis," said East girls coach Allan Aubrey. "And four teams (from each district) advance to the region."
Sullivan South's boys and Sullivan Central's girls, both unbeaten in league play, own the top seeds out of the Three Rivers.
ATHLETIC CYCLONES TAKE CHARGE
The boys affair, tied after the first quarter and a one-point contest at halftime, was tight throughout, but Elizabethton (10-13, 8-2) owned the final two minutes of the game, finishing on an 8-0 spurt while blanking the Patriots (14-13, 7-4) on their last six possessions.
Sweet-shooting Brayden Phillips, who scored 15 points, made three 3s in the first half to help the Cyclones lead 29-28 at intermission. But it was the play of Nico Ashley and Parker Hughes that carried Elizabethton home.
A 6-foot-4 senior skywalker who had two dunks, the rail-thin Ashley led all scorers with 17 points, while the 6-2, 180-pound Hughes tossed in 10 points and demanded the ball whenever the Cylcones needed a take-charge guy.
A junior, Hughes was also a top producer on Elizabethton's 15-0 state championship football team this past fall.
"You don't get many like those two very often," said Elizabethton coach Lucas Honeycutt. "Those guys are game changers and you saw it out here tonight.
"Sometimes kids like that just make plays for you."
The Cyclone man-to-man defense did an outstanding job of holding down East's usually potent 3-point offense. The Patriots, who have made as many as 22 shots beyond the arc in a single game this season, connected on just five 3s.
Ethan Bradford made all five of those 3s and led East with 15 points, while Braden Standbridge worked hard for 12 points.
The Cyclones managed to hold high-scoring Dylan Bartley to just 10 points.
"If you relax on these guys and don't get back in transition and get matched up, they're going to make shots," said Honeycutt, whose Cyclones had beaten East earlier in Elizabethton. "The key is making them uncomfortable.
"I think if you can make kids miss early it messes with their minds and then later in the game they aren't quite as confident as usual.
LADY PATRIOTS STORM BACK TO WIN
East (19-9, 9-2) overcame a miserable first quarter to storm back and complete a season sweep of the Lady Cyclones (15-10, 6-4).
The Lady Patriots were down 14-5 after one quarter before getting it together and closing to within 21-20 by halftime.
"Actually we got off to a 5-0 start, but we couldn't get any rhythm offensively, and then they finished the first quarter with a 14-0 run," Aubrey said. "In the second quarter we played great defense, but we still didn't find any great rhythm ... we just sort of pecked away and got back into the game.
"In the second half we did get some rhythm against their zone and hit a few 3s, which got us going. Then we finished strong to pick up a big win."
Elizabethton still led 38-37 heading into the last quarter, only to see the Patriots dominate the final eight minutes by a whopping 17-5 count.
Emma Aubrey made four 3s in the second half and five for the game, finishing with 15 points for East. Jenna Hare hit two 3s each half and scored 17 points for the Patriots, while teammate Hayley Grubb pitched in 14 points.
The Cyclones were led by the 14-point game of Morgan Headrick.