Cyclones slip past Claiborne

By Allen LaMountain


   MORRISTOWN -- If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then the Elizabethton Cyclones should be unbreakable. For the second consecutive contest the Cyclones were forced to go deep into their bench as starters battled foul trouble all night.
   Once again 'Betsy played with as many as three starters sitting on the bench with foul difficulty, but it seems that any two starters along with this crew of magnificent role players can lift EHS to victory on any given night.
   On Tuesday night at Isenberg-Siler Gym it was Walter Brown, B.J. Miller and Eric Stout that played the bulk of the minutes for 'Betsy and produced a 75-69 win over the Claiborne County Blue Devils, sending the Cyclones into a semi-final match with the Highlanders of Gatlinburg-Pittman tonight.
   Michael Porter, Brad Holtsclaw, Adam Turley and Lester Bailey all provided solid defense and clutch scoring off the bench.
   "I think B.J. rested all of 15 seconds and Walter played 30 minutes," said Cyclones head coach Tony Hardin. "Walter is soaking wet right now, and probably exhausted. They both did a great job in a tough situation."
   Miller logged 31:45 of playing time -- out of a possible 32 -- while Brown's performance in his 29:58 of court time was nothing short of spectacular. Brown scored a team-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor, while Miller knocked down 15 points.
   The first half saw the Cyclones whistled for 13 fouls, (compared to five against the Blue Devils) with post Vince Redd picking up three fouls by the half. Other Betsy 'bad boys' were Jordan Lambert and Stout who all had three fouls by the break.
   "We have to learn to play however the officials are calling the game," said Hardin. "Eric and Jordan both stepped up with three fouls, as we alternated them in the post. We told them 'Were coming to you' and even with the fouls they stepped up."
   Despite the foul situation 'Betsy still held a 35-30 halftime advantage as the Devils shot poorly at the free throw line in the opening half, leaving the door open a crack for EHS.
   "We need to avoid the situations we put ourselves in with foul trouble," said Brown. "We need to have better focus and not get into these situations, play like a team and back each other up. We have to play smarter at the beginning of the game."
   The second half saw a different Claiborne County team, one that had decided to win the game by feeding its best player the basketball and getting out of his way. That player is junior post Tony Bragan, a 6-4 sharp-shooter who tallied a game-high 29 points after a sluggish first half.
   Bragan led a Devils charge that closed the gap to 49-47 by the end of the period. A beautiful double-pump shot in the lane by Brown went down as the horn sounded to give the Cyclones the slimmest of leads.
   The fourth period opened with a bucket by Bragan that was answered by Lambert. Claiborne County's Darryl Veach and Brown traded buckets before Bragan hit a pair of baskets, sandwiched around a hoop by Brown.
   Stout hit a field goal and Bragan drained a long three to give the Devils a 59-56 lead, but Stout canned two free throws at the 4:29 mark to make it a one-point game.
   Stout and Brown then each hit buckets and Lambert hit one-of-two from the charity stripe as 'Betsy forged ahead by six at 64-58.
   A big play by Stout on a steal and bucket at the other end gave the Cyclones the run they desperately needed and gave them a 66-58 advantage with under three minutes remaining.
   With just over a minute remaining, EHS clung to a 69-62 lead. Porter hit one-of-two to make it an eight-point advantage, but Nik Fugate hit a basket, and after a Bailey free throw Bragan hit three free throws to cut the Cyclone lead to four at 71-67.
   Miller and Brown each hit big foul shots down the stretch to keep the Devils at bay
   An exhausted Miller put it best in the aftermath, saying: "The defense had to pick it up. With Vince out, we don't have that intimidation factor in the middle, but you can't let up. You just have to play smarter."