Cyclone rally comes up shy

By Allen LaMountain

ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

   BRISTOL -- With the Watauga Conference already sewn up the Elizabethton Cyclones played like a team in a trance in the first half of the Tuesday night battle at Viking Hall against Tennessee High.
   The real Cyclones came to play in the second half, but some crucial misses at the free throw line late in the contest cost them, and the Vikings held on for a 63-59 win.
   The win gave the Vikings their 21st win of the season against seven losses, while Betsy fell to an overall mark of 19-7.
   "We missed some free throws late, and you have to make those late in the game," said Cyclones head coach Tony Hardin. "We didn't come up here at this stage of the season expecting a walk. We expected a tough game, and that's what we got. I just don't think we played very well in the first half."
   An understatement to be sure as Betsy trailed 31-16 at the break, while shooting a miserable six-of-28 (21.4 percent) in the opening half.
   "Bristol did a tremendous job of defending us in the first half," said Hardin. "To me that was the difference in the game, that first half."
   The Vikings for their part shot 11-of-22 (50 percent) from the floor as Justin Hampton pumped in 10 of his 13 points in the first half. Hampton nailed his first two shots off the bench -- both trey's as Tennessee High raced to a 13-9 lead after one period.
   "We played a lot of man-to-man defense to keep the ball out of the hands of (EHS') top scorers, Miller and Redd. Defensively, Drew (Porter) stood right in there with Redd. I thought he played a good game."
   The Cyclones responded to the challenge in the third period as Jordan Lambert led a seven point Cyclone run that cut the Viking advantage to 31-23.
   Betsy closed to within 35-26, but Tennessee High fired right back with a 10-4 run to close out the third period with a 45-30 lead, after coach Hardin was assessed a technical foul.
   THS' Derek Linkous canned both free throws after the technical.
   Betsy got the deficit down to 10 points to open the fourth period as Lester Bailey hit a deuce and Vince Redd hit one-of-two free throws and followed that with a bucket to make it a 45-35 ball game.
   A three-point play by Redd made it 52-42 in favor of the Vikings and Linkous canned another pair of free throws to push the lead to 12.
   Walter Brown fired in a trey and after a steal put in a lay-up to cut the Vikings lead to 56-50 at the 2:49 mark of regulation.
   After Steven Counts hit a free throw, Ryan Place canned a deuce for THS to push the lead back to nine, but Brown was on fire in the fourth quarter and hit another runner in the lane -- a sweet double-pump jumper -- and Bailey followed that with a steal and lay-up.
   Both teams traded turnovers before Brown scored again to cut the Tennessee High lead to 60-58 with 39 ticks of the clock remaining.
   A moment later Bailey stood at the charity stripe with a chance to tie the game, but missed both free throws. At the other end of the floor Place hit both of his chances to make it a four point lead for the Vikes and Betsy couldn't close the gap any farther.
   For the game the Cyclones hit on 14-of-26 (53.8 percent) from the free throw line while the Vikes hit 18-of-23 (78.3 percent), which provided the Vikings margin of victory.
   "We didn't come out with the kind of focus we needed to have," said Hardin. "It was much better in the second half, but by that time we had dug ourselves so big a hole it was hard to climb back out of it."