EHS, Unicoi Co. advance to finals

By Jeff Birchfield

   BLOUNTVILLE -- The scary part for the competition is that she's only a freshman.
   Michaela Pietrowski scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds leading Elizabethton to a 59-46 win over Sullivan Central Tuesday night in District 1-AA girls semifinal action.
   "I didn't have any confidence at the beginning of the season," said Pietrowski. "It's been built up over the season by my teammates and coaches. I couldn't shoot a free throw at the first of the season if my life depended on it. Now, I've improved on that.
   "We just buckled down tonight and did what we were supposed to. That allowed us to get a bunch of rebounds."
   The win improved the Lady Cyclones to 20-7 on the season. It spelled Elizabethton's first 20-win season since 1995.
   "We executed pretty well," said Elizabethton head coach Mike Wilson. "We had a size advantage out there and was able to take advantage of that. The best thing out there was our half-court defense."
   Elizabethton completely dominated the inside game with Rikki Baughman scoring 16 points and Valnessha Redd adding another 10 points.
   Sullivan Central, 14-14 on the season, got down early when leading scorer Catie Munal got in early foul trouble.
   Munal fouled out of the game midway through the third quarter with eight points, while Pietrowski was on a red-hot streak. Entering the final quarter, Pietrowski was a perfec
t 8-for-8 from the field. She finished with a blistering 9-of-11 from the floor.
   "How good she can be depends on how hard she wants to work," said Wilson when questioned about Pietrowski. "She's gotten much better over the year. She's a very bright kid and very coachable. She's come a long way. If we can get her to jump when she gets the ball, she will be very hard to deal with."
   The Lady Cyclones led 18-7 at the end of one quarter, 31-16 at the half and 45-30 after three.
   After Redd's bucket put EHS up by 20 in the fourth, the Lady Cougars caught fire, going on a 12-1 run. With the lead now closed to eight, Pietrowski made two big scores for the Lady Cyclones to put them back with a double-digit advantage.
   "They did an excellent job of running their post offense and getting the ball to Pietrowski," said Central head coach Gary Surcey. "The kid is going to be a force before she gets out of here. She catches the ball and lobs and puts it in the basket.
   "It wasn't just that, they were looking for the mismatch. They were posting up Redd and Baughman when they would get the mismatch. We like to play them up front, but they caught us behind."
   Leading scorers for Central were Kayla Vaughn with 16 points, Beth Shelton with 10 points and Sarah Munal, who matched her sister's total with eight points.
   Elizabethton received six points from Whitney Bishop and three apiece from Tanya Dykes and Eden Treadway.
   On Thursday, they will get a third chance this season to knock off regular season league champion Unicoi County. The first meeting was a double-overtime thriller, while the last meeting was a 21-point blowout by the Lady Devils.
   "We were embarrassed the last time we played them," said Wilson. "Our kids at the least want to show people that was not indicative of the type of team we are."
   Added Pietrowski, "I really think we have the opportunity to beat them, but it will take some really hard work."
   Lady Devils 43
   Lady Warriors 32
   The Lady Devils won the evening's first semifinal with a 43-32 win over Happy Valley after opening the game with a 9-0 run.
   "I was super proud of them," said Unicoi County head coach Glenn Fisher. "I think Happy Valley played a good basketball game and we had a lot of respect for them. I'm glad to be back in the championship game. We're going to give it a great effort."
   The Lady Warriors trailed 11-3 at the end of one quarter and 21-11 at the half, but refused to fold their tee-pees.
   "We stuck with them," said Kate Powell, who scored a game-high 13 points. "We've been taught not to give up. We got up in their faces with our defense and it caused turnovers. Our intensity just went up. We haven't had that a lot this year, but it's tournament time."
   In the third quarter, UC was leading 28-17 when Kortney Goulds hit a well-timed three for the Lady Warriors.
   The score was countered by the quick response team of Amber Kerns and Meghan Headley. Their baskets immediately had the Lady Devils back in front by a dozen.
   The persistent Warriors kept chipping away at the lead. They had closed to 33-25 at the end of three quarters. A second timely trey by Goulds in the fourth quarter pulled them within five points.
   Down the stretch, Meghan Headley answered every comeback attempt. She had the first six Unicoi County scores in the fourth quarter, on her way to a 10-point game.
   "Meghan Headley had some big scores for us late in the game," said Fisher. "She can take over a game for us when we need her to."
   Kelia Williams scored with 3:54 left to pull HV back within eight. Headley and Hali Sparks then reeled off the next six points to put the game out of reach.
   "We had a good run in the fourth quarter and had them on the ropes a little bit," said Happy Valley coach Ben Godsey. "We got some looks at the basket, but we couldn't get a couple of shots to go down. I thought our defensive pressure and intensity was the best we've seen all year. We didn't back down from them. That was a tough basketball game."
   Sparks topped the Unicoi County scoring list with 12 points, while Elizabeth Weaver contributed 11 points.
   "Their defense was a lot tougher and they were a lot rougher," said Sparks. "The stakes were a lot higher. The past two times we played them in the conference, it didn't seem like they were that close to us. Tonight they made a big improvement. Their posts made a big difference for them. It was hard to get open against them. I'm thankful I did at times."
   The Lady Warriors received six points from Goulds, and four points apiece from Mandy Byrd and Brandi Dugger.
   Happy Valley (12-14) now faces host school Sullivan Central in the District 1-AA consolation game on Thursday. In two earlier meetings this season, each team won by one point on its respective home floor. The Lady Warriors are already guaranteed a trip to Regional action after beating Hampton in round one.
   "The main thing is that we got that first win and advanced," said Godsey. "We're still alive."
   Despite the win, all was not well for the Lady Devils (25-3). Weaver suffered a bad ankle sprain and went to the hospital for x-rays. She is listed as questionable for Thursday's championship game match-up against Elizabethton.