Austin-East puts end to gallant Cyclone season

By Allen LaMountain

   The magic touch that had carried the Elizabethton Cyclones to the sub-state eluded 'Betsy on Monday night at Treadway Gym, where the Cyclones fell to the Austin-East Roadrunners by a 52-47 tally.
   Cyclone guard B.J. Miller put up a three that would have tied the game, but he did not get a real good look at it, and it glanced off front iron. Cyclone post Eric Stout got a hand on the offensive board but it was snatched away by Jamichael Blair, and moments later Blair's free throws would ice the game for the 'Runners.
   "I thought our kids played hard and gave ourselves a chance to win," said Cyclones head coach Tony Hardin. "A couple of shots didn't fall tonight, but (Austin-East) plays such good defense that they force you to take shots you don't want to take."
   Blair, who scored a game-high 18 points and took down nine boards in returning to the state finals -- where he has been every year since he was a freshman, only to come away empty -- was elated at getting one last shot at the brass ring.
   "I only know what it takes to get there (Finals)," Blair said. "I want to feel what it's like to win it. All I wanted coming in here was one last chance at the state."
   Jordan Lambert opened the contest with a three and Miller followed with a deuce as the Cyclones opened with an 8-2 run, only to see the 'Runners race back with an eight point run of their own. The first quarter ended with EHS on top, 15-10.
   It would be a short-lived lead as Austin-East jumped out in front at 19-18 on a jumper by Maurice Essie and the 'Runners took a 30-26 advantage into the dressing room at halftime.
   Walter Brown scored eight of his 10 points in the first half to lead 'Betsy, while Miller added seven of his nine points in the first half. Cyclone post Vince Redd saw just 8:39 of playing time in the first half as he fell into foul trouble and was given a technical foul for blocking a shot and pinning it to the backboard.
   "The foul trouble hurt us, but we were still in the game," said Hardin. "These are great kids and they all lay it out there for each other. It just wasn't meant to be tonight."
   For the 'Runners, Blair led in first-half scoring with 11, followed by Albert Harris, who tallied all five of his points in the opening two quarters.
   "I just wish we could get Blair back to 100 percent," said Roadrunners head coach Charles Mitchell. "He's about 80 percent now after he hurt his knee. I think he deserves one last shot. He has been to the finals every year since he got here, and it's only fitting he go back."
   The 'Runner led 45-37 going into the final stanza as Austin-East used a pair of six-point runs and a pair of threes by Essie and Ellam Young to open a 45-35 lead before Brown tossed Redd an alley-oop pass that Redd reverse thunder-dunked to close the period.
   Redd opened the fourth quarter with a deuce, followed by buckets from Stout and Brown as 'Betsy pulled to within 45-43 before Blair answered for Austin-East.
   After a Cyclone timeout, Brown dropped in a deuce, but that tally was answered by Essie to make it a 49-45 'Runner lead with under three minutes left in regulation.
   A nip and tuck defensive struggle -- with both sides turning the ball over to the other -- ate up precious time however, and forced 'Betsy to begin fouling to stop the clock.
   After a Cyclone turnover Essie hit one-of-two from the charity stripe and Lambert dropped in a deuce at the other end to cut the Austin-East lead to 50-47 with 26 ticks remaining.
   Essie missed the front and of his one and one and Redd grabbed the rebound. The ball found its way into Miller's hands, but his hurried shot was off the mark and Blair grabbed the board.
   He was fouled immediately by Lester Bailey, but it was his fifth of the night. Blair then calmly hit both free throws.
   From there, the Cyclone inbounds pass sailed over Lambert's head and was gathered in by Harris, who dribbled out the last of the Cyclone season.
   "This team is not the same as last year," said Mitchell. "Last year we had seven seniors, this year just three. We are playing freshmen out there at times. We have had great teams that didn't win, but we're just happy to get there win, lose or draw."
   Cyclone notes: Eric Stout closed out a solid prep career with six points and five boards, but points were never the measure of Stout, whose defensive efforts and team play made him invaluable to the squad.
   "I couldn't ask for better teammates or coaches," said Stout. "We couldn't have played any harder, we left it all out on the court. It's been an unbelievable time."