Lady Devils escape EHS

By Allen LaMountain

   ERWIN -- On a night when two unbeatens tried to remain that way, the underdogs nearly stole the show from both. The Elizabethton Cyclones (14-0 Watauga Conference, 24-3 overall) held off the Unicoi County Blue Devils for three periods before finally showing the stifling defense 'Betsy has been known for and pulled away to a 62-45 victory on Thursday night.
   In the opener the Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils survived to finish with a 14-0 WC record as a last-gasp shot by Tanya Dykes rolled off the rim as the buzzer sounded to give Unicoi a 48-47 win.
   The Lady Cyclones (11-3, 15-7) -- who knew coming in that they could finish no worse than second in the Watauga Conference -- were determined to play spoiler even though the Lady Devils had clinched first place.
   "Coming in here and playing them as tough as we did, can only help us," said Lady Cyclone head coach Mike Wilson. "I'm proud of the way the girls played, how hard they played, and how determined they were. We could have shot better free throws, but there was a fatigue factor in there at the end of the game."
   'Betsy led 18-16 after one period and took a 30-29 lead into the break as a layup by Jordan Crowe beat the buzzer, allowing the Lady Cyclones the advantage of a slim lead in a hostile environment.
   The lead wouldn't hold however as a 7-2 Unicoi County run in the third period enabled the Lady Devils to take a 43-38 cushion into the final period.
   "Both teams had some good runs and it was a great ballgame," said Lady Devils coach Glenn Fisher. "Things were a little sloppy at times, but both teams were playing great defense. That fourth quarter was a real defensive battle."
   Valnessha Redd and Amber Bailey exchanged buckets before a Rikki Baughman deuce and Redd followed with a steal and a basket as EHS cut the Lady Devils advantage to 46-44 at the 4:59 mark of regulation.
   After each team traded free throws an invisible lid seemingly fit itself over each teams basket as both squads struggled through a three-minute scoreless period that was broken at the 26-second mark as Meghan Headley's layup gave the Devils a 48-45 lead, prompting EHS to use a timeout.
   "We missed a lot of two-footers," said Fisher. "It was important to win tonight, but everyone starts over at 0-0 in the tournament. I knew that this game could give a team momentum. We were definitely tested tonight."
   After the 'Betsy timeout, Baughman canned a bucket for Elizabethton to make it a 48-47 game with 13 ticks remaining. Immediately the Cyclones fouled Headley, who missed the front end of her one-and-one, giving the Lady Cyclones one last shot at an upset win.
   Dykes dribbled to her right just inside the foul line to the right of the circle and at first looked to pass, but that option was blocked so Dykes put up the shot.
   Off her fingers it looked dead-on, but struck backboard and rolled off the front rim.
   "Both teams missed a lot of short shots in the late stages," commented Wilson. "But, the girls all played hard, the effort was there. I though Tanya had a decent look at the shot, but right now we just want to come out strong in the tournament."
   Baughman scored a game-high 14 points, while Lane tallied nine and both Redd and Brandi Forbes were good for seven. Headley's 11 led the Lady Devils.
   Elizabethton 62
   Unicoi County 45
   Senior guard B.J. Miller scored 21 points -- while shooting five-of-10 from three-point range -- as the Cyclones clinched their second consecutive unbeaten Watauga crown.
   The host Blue Devils were determined to not only knock off the conference's top dog, but to take themselves out of tonight's pig-tail contest with Hampton in the process. The Devils fell a little short and will face the Bulldogs in an 8 p.m. contest at Treadway Gym.
   "In the fourth quarter we were within six points, and I felt good about that," said Unicoi County head coach John English. "EHS just wore us down at the end. B.J. (Miller) stuck dagger after dagger in us, but we didn't back down."
   'Betsy led 33-23 at halftime with Miller's 15 points leading the way. Vince Redd tallied five of his 14 points and three of his six blocked shots in the first half as Betsy shot 14-of-27 from the floor for a nice 52 percent.
   The Blue Devils shot an even better 53 percent but took 12 fewer shots than EHS due to the Cyclones' 15-8 rebound advantage in the first half.
   Unicoi's Michael Price caught fire in the second half as he finished with 21 points, but was good for a dozen in the second half as the Blue Devils began to creep up on the Cyclones.
   Price hit a light's-out six-for-seven from distance, but his last shot attempt of the night was soundly rejected under the hoop by Redd in the fourth quarter to quiet the Devil sharp-shooter.
   Price opened the final period with a three to make it a 44-38 contest, but EHS answered with a bucket by Redd and a trey by Miller. Price however, answered right back for UC to make it a 49-41 game, but a 10-2 EHS run ballooned the lead to 59-43 and at the 1:59 mark and ended the Devils upset hopes.
   "I think it's an unbelievable achievement to go undefeated two seasons in a row," said EHS head coach Tony Hardin. "It's been a lot of hard work. Every night the other team brings it's a game when they play you. I think coach English has done a great job. His team was focused and played with a lot of energy. We are glad to have Walter back, and while I may have to watch his minutes, he played more tonight than I expected him to, which says a lot about his dedication."
   EHS notes: The JV boys and girls each won the Watauga junior varsity crowns and with a year of seasoning the kids on both squads will be big contributors to the Cyclones in the seasons to come.