Miller lifts 'Betsy with final shot
Cyclones take regional title

By Allen LaMountain

   MORRISTOWN -- It sat there on the front rim for what seemed like an eternity, this orange sphere that would decide the fate of two teams that had battled and sweated for 32 minutes. One would have to take to the road, while the other would be crowned Region 1-AA champion and get a home game on Monday night.
   When B.J. Miller's third buzzer-beating shot of his MVP night rippled through the nets, the Elizabethton Cyclones (23-8) had won their first regional title since 1983 with a 54-52 win over the Sullivan Central Cougars (20-12) on Thursday night at Isenburg-Siler gymnasium.
   Miller dropped in shots at the buzzer in the first, second and fourth quarters and was appropriately named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
   When asked if he had ever heard of someone doing that before, Miller replied, "No, that's a new one on me. I about had a heart attack."
   Cyclone head coach Tony Hardin put it like this: "B.J. is a gym rat, and he has practiced that shot a million times, I promise you that. That shot did not happen by accident."
   Miller averaged 14.7 points per game in the tournament and was the man with the ball in his hands at crunch time for 'Betsy all season long.
   "We know whose hands we want the ball in at the end of games." said Cyclone guard Walter Brown, who played a tremendous tournament himself, scoring 22 points in Betsy's win over Claiborne County on Tuesday night.
   What looked like a fairly easy Cyclone win after the first half and into the third period saw a Cougar comeback that few thought they had in them after three losses to Elizabethton during the season.
   The Cyclones led 30-16 at the half, as Central's three-point shooting eye betrayed them (shooting 0-for-6 from the three point arc) and 'Betsy was relatively foul trouble free and playing well.
   Vince Redd scored 12 of his 19 points in the first half, with Miller tallying six of his 10 in the opening half. EHS shot a scorching 56 percent on 14-of-25 shooting overall, and hit two-of-six from long range in the half.
   Central, however, came out of the locker room in the second half, and head coach Tony Vaughn found a combination of players that could matchup with Elizabethton in size and speed.
   Zach Frye, Chris Martin and Daniel Skelton came off the bench and lit a fire under the Central starters with some fiery defensive work and a couple of clutch baskets.
   "The key for us was finding a combination that could match Elizabethton's quickness," said Vaughn. "Skelton played hard and Josh O'Dell was big inside for us. We played like we are capable of playing in the second half. We were a different team."
   Central went on a 9-2 run to open the third period to make it a 32-25 game, but 'Betsy answered with a bucket by Brown. Before the period was over however, Central had closed the gap to 40-37 and were beginning to take the momentum away from the Cyclones.
   Eric Stout opened the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws, and Redd and Brown followed those with one each from the charity stripe as 'Betsy built the lead back up to 44-37.
   Frye then hit a pair of free throws for Central, as did Josh Crain, as the Cougars cut the Cyclone advantage to 44-39 with 4:12 remaining in regulation.
   Moments later Crain dropped a three-point bomb on the Cyclones that made it a two-point contest and sent the Sullivan Central fans into a frenzy.
   A Miller deuce quieted the boisterous Central crowd momentarily, but Elizabethton was about to come unglued as Redd was whistled for his fifth personal foul and Brown was hit with a technical foul.
   Crain and Joe LeSeuer each drained a pair of free throws that tied the game at 46-46 with 1:13 left.
   "We got a little out of our game," said Brown. "We needed to slow things down, and make two passes and get the ball low. We worked hard and got our focus back at the end."
   Lester Bailey came up big at this juncture, hitting a basket and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch. Sandwiched in between was a shot that most people still don't believe as Crain simply tossed up a baseline runner the kissed glass and swished through the net, and hit another deuce on a jumper.
   Crain finished with 19 points, which tied Redd for game-high, but it was Miller who then stole the whole show.
   With six ticks left Miller took the inbounds pass and dribbled upcourt and just inside the three-point line tossed up a runner that hit back iron, and the backboard before finally settling on the front rim as every breath in the packed house was held.
   When it fell, the Cyclones celebrated at center court in what was as much jubilation as relief.
   "Our legs are just dead," said Hardin. "But we have three days to rest up before the next challenge. We went through three wars to win this thing."