Cyclones, Rangers set for sub-state clashes

By Allen LaMountain

   By virtue of huge wins this past week by the Elizabethton Cyclones and the Unaka Rangers, both squads prepare for home games in the sub-state round of the TSSAA prep basketball playoffs, and a trip to Murfreesboro to the victors.
   Elizabethton won a thrilling 54-52 win at Morristown East High School to be crowned the Region 1-2AA champion, while Unaka upset powerhouse Hancock County at Lincoln Memorial University behind an MVP performance by senior forward Aaron Dugger.
   Elizabethton prepares to welcome District 3-4 AA runner-up Austin-East (24-11) to John Treadway gym tonight for a 7 p.m. contest, while the Rangers face darkhorse Sunbright (17-16).
   "There aren't any bad teams left," said Unaka head coach Donald Ensor. "Sunbright is a solid team, they start five seniors, and like us, they made it to the field of 16."
   At press time we did not know the exact whereabouts of this game. Happy Valley is a possibility, but so to according to Ensor, was the possibility of the game being played at Snavely gym.
   "It could be played at Unaka," said Ensor. "We will know for sure tomorrow morning. The only (high school) facility that could accommodate the tournament is Elizabethton. We may still have the game at Unaka."
   The Rangers are a senior laden squad as well and have made the climb to get to this level, getting beaten by Alcoa in this game last year, but Ensor says his team is prepared.
   "We want to carry the momentum of winning the regional over to this game," said Ensor. "We will do the things that got us here, hitting the boards and playing defense. I like the attitude and work ethic of this group of kids."
   For Betsy the task is a little more daunting. To beat a team that has been to this level and beyond and that has a school tradition of winning basketball.
   "Austin-East has a rich basketball tradition," said Cyclones head coach Tony Hardin. "They have been in the state finals three years running, so they have been there before. But I hope that our home crowd gives us a boost. We have worked hard to get to this level and this will be a good test to match ourselves up against a team like East."
   Vince Redd will have to be a presence for the Cyclones and avoid the foul troubles that have plagued him in the district and regional tournaments.
   Redd averaged playing just a shade over 17 minutes in the regional tournament, due to foul trouble, and he will have to play a solid 23-25 minutes to give Betsy a chance.
   The Roadrunners have a talented lineup with enough size to matchup with the Cyclone frontcourt. Senior forward Jamichael Blair is 6'5" and is listed on the Coach T website as a possible Division 1-A recruit.
   Alongside Blair is 6'3" junior wing Maurice Essie, while in the post will be 6'4" junior Tim Underwood. The Austin-East backcourt looks solid as well with 6'1" sophomore Brian Bogus and senior Omar Ballenger running the offense from his point guard spot.
   "I think we have the scoring to stay with them," said Hardin. "We will have to come to play that's for sure. Defense is what got us where we are and I think a key is that we will have to out-rebound them."
   For that the Cyclones are well-equipped as the frontcourt of Eric Stout, Redd and Jordan Lambert is tall, rangy, athletic and all are good on the boards.
   Redd and Lambert were the leading rebounders in the district tournament, and even with diminished playing time, Redd was still in the top three rebounders in the regional tourney.
   For both Unaka and Elizabethton, the challenge is a tough one, but the opportunity is there to put their names in the school's record books carve out a piece of history for themselves.