Cyclones earn hard-fought win over Unicoi

By Jeff Birchfield

   ERWIN -- Like an old-west gunfighter, Derrick Nave pulled the trigger with dead-eye accuracy Monday night in Elizabethton's 58-55 win over the Unicoi County Blue Devils.
   Trailing by one point with less than four minutes to go in the game, Nave launched a three-pointer that put EHS in front 51-49. After Unicoi County tied the game at 53-apiece with a little over a minute remaining, Nave nailed another three from the right corner at the 40-second mark to put the Cyclones up 56-53.
   "My teammates got me the ball and we worked really hard there at the end," said Nave. "We got down a little in the third quarter, but we settled down. I calmed down and got wide-open at the end. Everytime Lester (Bailey) sees me out there he finds a way to get me the ball."
   Going to the foul line 24 seconds later Nave again delivered, knocking down a pair of free throws that essentially clinched the game for EHS.
   "I was nervous but I went out there and blocked everything out," said Nave, surprisingly calm for a sophomore. "I just tried to do what I do best and make the shot."
   Unicoi County did battle back for one last chance to tie, but Ryan Corn's three-point attempt at the buzzer was well off the mark.
   Nave may have been the sophomore with big plays at the end, but second-year teammates J.C. Atkinson, Charles Peters and Ben Hardin also had key scores during the game for the Cyclones.
   "Our sophomore play might have been the biggest key to the game," said EHS coach Tony Hardin. "Ben made two big shots. J.C. Atkinson had great minutes, Derrick Nave had a big game and Charles Peters played well. That's four sophomores who we play a lot. Our young kids did a good job.
   "At the end we ran a set play to get Derrick the ball and Lester did a great job twice getting him the ball, penetrating and kicking it out. He did a good job knocking down the tough shots and Lester did a good job getting him the ball."
   The Blue Devils jumped out to a 12-7 lead at the end of one quarter before Elizabethton rallied to take a 23-22 lead into halftime.
   A trey by Lester Bailey to start the third quarter gave EHS its biggest lead at 26-22 until the end of the game. Unicoi County fought back with a trey by Ryan Corn, transferring the lead back to the Devils. They stayed ahead throughout the remainder of the third quarter, taking a 42-39 advantage heading into the final stanza.
   Thomas Evely's score pushed the UC lead to five, before Elizabethton eventually tied the score at 48-48 on a putback by Adam Turley with a little over four minutes remaining.
   Nave's hot shooting and enough big defensive plays down the stretch allowed EHS to take the tough road win.
   "We struggled with some things, but Erwin did some good things with their gameplan," said Hardin. "We had some ups and downs like a roller-coaster ride. Going into the tournament in a few days you just want to make plays at the end where you can win. We had guys that did that."
   For the Unicoi side, there was some satisfaction knowing they were more competitive than the last time the teams faced off.
   "We had a real hard time over there," said UC head coach John English. "We did a better job tonight. We got some nice back door cuts, but they would answer every time with a big three. They would use those to tightening things back up.
   "Nave had the open look for the three and he knocked it down. That put them up by three with about 40 seconds to go. We didn't really mount a threat after that."
   Unicoi County's Jonathan Grindstaff led all scorers with 22 points. Corn added 15 and Evely accounted for seven.
   Nave led the Cyclones in scoring with 13 points, followed closely by Turley with 12. Bailey scored eight, Atkinson added seven and Hardin posted six in the EHS victory.
   The Cyclones will return to action tonight at Treadway Gym in a Senior Night contest against highly-touted Tennessee High. All senior athletes for basketball, cheerleading, wrestling and swimming will be recognized along with their parents or guardian at halftime.