'Clones capture 1-AA title in wild finish

By Ivan Sanders

   The Elizabethton Cyclones finally got to throw a skeleton out of the closet they have carried for over a year after losing last year's District 1 title to Hampton.
   For a while, though, it appeared there might be another one to add as the Sullivan Central Cougars came in hungry to break the three-game losing streak they have endured during the regular season to the Cyclones.
   In a wild finish that saw the Cyclones make a defensive stand that Custer would have been proud of, Elizabethton outscored Central 20-7 over the last eight minutes of the game to rally from a 49-40 deficit and claim their first District 1-AA title in Tony Hardin's tenure as head coach with a dramatic 60-56 win in A.L. Treadway Gym on Friday night.
   "We have a lot of respect for Central because they play with so much heart and intensity under Coach (Tony) Vaughn," said Hardin after the game. "We just regrouped and did the two things that has gotten us to the place we are right now and that is number one execute our offense and number two play aggressive defense."
   The open quarter looked like a battle of the gladiators as tournament Co-MVP Vince Redd of EHS and All-Tourney selection Matt Dunford of Central slugged it out offensively as both recorded eight points each, mainly from underneath the basket. Elizabethton managed to get the best of the Cougars in the period as they claimed a 14-10 edge.
   Central and Elizabethton then settled into a see-saw affair in the second period that resembled two prize fighters swapping major blows. Freshman Charles Peters of the Cyclones played tough in the period as he scored five points and crashed the boards effectively while Central turned to their big play maker, John LeSueur, who was able to propel the Cougars to a slim 32-29 advantage at the intermission.
   Redd paced the Cyclones in the half with 10, with Peters and Co-MVP B.J. Miller netting five each. Dunford collected 10 in the first-half showing the way for Central, with LeSueur contributing with 7.
   Opening the third quarter with 7-2 run in the first 1:50 minute span, Central appeared to stun the Cyclones a little by taking an eight point lead, 39-31. The Cougars kept the heat turned up the entire quarter as they eventually came to the quarter's stop leading by nine, 49-40, going into the finally period.
   When asked if the big lead could have factored into his team's performance going into the finally eight minutes, Central's mentor said it could have had some impact.
   Said Vaughn: "You know we played really well the first five minutes of the third quarter, but I don't feel like we played well the last three. They started to throw it inside to their horse and we couldn't stop him. Both teams played like champions and I am really proud of my kids. I would love to play them two more times this season."
   Go to their horse they did, as Big Vince pounded the Cougars on the inside allowing Miller and Lester Bailey to take advantage of the Cougars sagging defense on Redd to put the icing on the cake for the Cyclones with the 20-point output in the quarter.
   Most impressive was the fact that the Cyclones were able to hold the hot-shooting Cougars to only four points in a span of 7: 56 of the final quarter.
   "We knew we had to step it up defensively and create a couple of steals to get the momentum going our way," said team captain Jordan Lambert. "Once we did that, we just took care of business because we wanted to win this title as a team and give it back to all our fans."
   There was a sigh of relief on the part of all the seniors to finally be able to say they were the District 1 champions.
   "It's been a long time coming because we should have won it last year," stated senior Brad Holtslcaw, who had predicted the Cyclones were going to take the title in pre-season. "Central wanted it, but we really needed it and were able to take the win with a good defensive effort."
   Redd finished as game-high scorer with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. Miller pitched in with 14 points, most of them coming in the tight stretch of the fourth quarter, and Bailey added seven including a clutch trey in the fourth quarter. Lambert and Peters also swiped nine boards each in giving the Cyclones a 32-21 rebound edge.
   Dunford paced the Cougars with 18 points followed closely by LeSuer with 15. Joe Brown contributed eight for the Cougars.
   The regional matchups for the boys are as follows: top-seed Elizabethton faces South Greene, Central takes on Gatlinburg-Pittman, Volunteer squares off against Pigeon Forge, and Johnson County tangles with Claiborne County. All games will be at Elizabethton High School, with both boys and girls action beginning Monday afternoon.