Cyclones, Pirates played classic in '64 district

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
jcombs@starhq.com

   It was the kind of game that drives even the most mild-mannered fans to start popping tranquilizers like those little candy bricks from a Pez dispenser.
   On Feb. 27, 1964, precisely 40 years ago, Elizabethton and Sullivan squared off in the semifinals of the District 1 tournament at Dobyns-Bennett's Sprankle Gym, and four quarters of basketball wouldn't be nearly enough to determine the outcome.
   The Cyclones and Pirates battled through an astounding six overtimes before the issue was settled that night, and Elizabethton was able to pull the chestnuts from the fire, exiting the gym with a 60-58 win.
   "I remember being drained and exhausted after the game," Bill Swaney, who started at center for the Cyclones, said this week when asked to reflect upon the classic contest. "I knew we would play Kingsport (Dobyns-Bennett) in the finals if we won, and we were fortunate enough to win the game.
   "I was so tired when we played (D-B). Of course, they were the better team -- I don't want to take anything away from them -- but we were so tired that we were not ready to play."
   Even though coach John Treadway's weary Cyclones fell to D-B 53-38 the following night, their victory over the Pirates deserves lofty status.
   "It's all a blur," said Swaney, referring to the Sullivan tilt. "Six overtimes -- they all kind of just run together."
   It was Swaney who made sure the madness would not extend to a seventh overtime, as he scored all four of Elizabethton's points in the sixth OT on charity slings.
   His final two points, which came with six seconds showing on the clock, gave the Cyclones a 60-56 lead and put away the Dickie Warren-coached Pirates.
   "At that point I just wanted to get it over with," Swaney said. "You get so tired that you just get loose. I was too tired to be nervous. When it gets that late in the season, after playing a whole season, you don't get very nervous."
   This was a contest in which Elizabethton had the upper hand only one time -- 22-21 on a Gary Sheffield field goal with 1:27 remaining in the first half -- before grabbing a 52-50 advantage in the third OT.
   However, the Cyclones never allowed Sullivan to get more than a few points in the lead.
   "They had a really good team," said Swaney of the Pirates. "They might have been a little bit better than us, but we were able to hang with them and stay close. Sometimes when you hang around, you make the right plays at the right times, and we did. We might have been a little more mentally tough at that time."
   Down 26-24 at intermission and 40-36 at the end of the third quarter, Elizabethton managed to tie the game at 46 on a Ken Stanley layup with 2:16 to play in the fourth.
   A deuce from Sullivan big man Gary Martin got the Pirates back on top, but a Swaney tip-in with 55 seconds remaining created a 48-48 deadlock that forced the first overtime.
   OT number one saw no scoring -- Elizabethton had possession of the ball all but nine seconds in the period -- then both clubs tallied two points apiece in each of the next four periods.
   The fifth overtime saw Martin put the Pirates up 56-54 with a field goal from outside the foul circle, then quickly foul out with 33 points and 14 rebounds to his credit.
   "He was real smooth and just a really good player," said Swaney, giving his assessment of Martin. "He was tough to guard."
   Elizabethton's Mike Boatright followed by stepping to the fore, calmly sinking two foul shots to send the game to a tenth quarter that the Cyclones almost didn't live to see. Had Gene White been a split-second faster on his release, his 70-foot bucket, made from the left-hand side of the court, would have beaten the clock at the end of the fifth OT, and beaten the boys from 'Betsy.
   "It was a good game," Swaney said. "It was a good game to play in and a good game to watch."
   Worley Birchfield, the Big Six Conference scoring champ (15.8 ppg.) for the 1963-64 season, turned in a splendid effort for the Cyclones, accounting for 23 points, while Swaney, the season's No. 3 scorer (12.9 ppg.) in the conference, put together a rock solid performance of 17 points and eight rebounds.
   Stanley added 10 points, with Boatright scoring seven and grabbing eight boards.
   Gary Light pitched in 16 points for the Pirates, who were unable to overcome an 8-of-21 showing at the free-throw line. In contrast, the Cyclones hit 20 of 27 charity attempts.
   Some other key notes from EHS basketball history follow:
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   BOYS
   THIRTY SEASONS AGO (1973-74), the Cyclones played their final season at the high school that now serves as T.A. Dugger Junior High.
   In its home finale, Elizabethton got 17 points apiece from Sid Taylor and Jeff Dykes while knocking off Sullivan East by a score of 77-63. Coach Larry White's EHS team had three other players score in double digits, with Steve McKinney and Dennis Ellis each netting 12, and James Wash collecting 10.
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   FORTY FIVE SEASONS AGO (1958-59), Elizabethton's Johnny Taylor laid claim to the Big Seven Conference scoring championship, averaging 16.3 points per game, and John Holsclaw, serving as the catalyst for an 83-52 'Betsy win, pumped in 30 points when the Cyclones visited Unicoi County.
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   FIFTY SEASONS AGO (1953-54), the Cyclones' Buddy Nidiffer amassed three performances of more than 30 points, topped by a 37-point outburst that anchored a 66-60 Elizabethton triumph at Unicoi County.
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   SIXTY YEARS AGO (1944), in Nashville, Carl Treadway's 16-point effort led the E. Niles Brown-coached Cyclones past Memphis Southside 35-33 in the state tournament semifinals, sending 'Betsy to its only appearance in a state championship basketball game.
   Treadway netted 18 in the Cyclones' 34-27 quarterfinal victory over Hillsboro. Elizabethton lost to Nashville West in the championship, 38-30.
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   SIXTY FIVE YEARS AGO (1939), a Crawford Bowling field goal in overtime lifted 'Betsy to a 44-42 win over Dobyns-Bennett in the District 16 final, which was held on the Indians' home floor.
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   SEVENTY FIVE SEASONS AGO (1928-29), Elizabethton defeated Science Hill for the first time since 1920, taking a defensive-laden 18-17 decision at home.
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   GIRLS
   TWENTY FIVE SEASONS AGO (1978-79), Fridie Slagle pulled down 20 rebounds as the Lady Cyclones registered a 36-26 conquest of Sullivan East. Slagle complemented her rebounding total with 15 points.
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   SIXTY FIVE SEASONS AGO (1938-39), Ted Bateman struck for 30 points as Elizabethton knocked off Morristown 46-33, and Nellie Wills buried a pair of free throws with no time remaining to push the Lady Flashers (Flashers was the team nickname in the program's pre-modern era) to a 35-33 District 16 tournament semifinal win over Cloudland at Happy Valley.
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   SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO (1929), the Lady Flashers, coached by C.A. Kyle, wrapped up their third consecutive Upper East Tennessee tournament title by defeating Boones Creek 16-11 at State Teachers College. Wilma Donnelly took care of most of 'Betsy's offense, netting 14 points.