Lady Blue Devils trim Elizabethton for title

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   It was a classic duel that was even better than the shootouts between the Hatfield and McCoys. Two very talented girls teams in Unicoi County and Elizabethton took the floor and left their blood, sweat, and tears all over A.L. Treadway Gymnasium's hardwood in the finals of the girls Region 1 tournament on Thursday evening.
   When the final horn sounded, the Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils knew they had withstood everything that the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones could throw their way and held off a last-minute flurry to take a hard-fought 45-42 win and claim the girl's championship plaque.
   "There was never a really defining moment in the game because both teams played hard from start to finish, with the lead swapping sides several times down the stretch," said Lady Blue Devil coach Glenn Fisher. "We missed some early free throws in the first half and then made several crucial free throws down the stretch in the second half and fortunately were able to hold on and win."
   Early on, it looked like the Lady Blue Devils might put the Lady Cyclones in the hole early as they managed to take a 5-0 lead with 5:37 showing in the first quarter.
   The Lady Cyclones received a lift from an unlikely source as Takisha Avery scored four points in a 1:18 second span to pull Elizabethton with 10-6 at the 2:58 mark. Unicoi controlled the quarter by a 14-7 margin.
   Valneesha Redd came off the bench in the second period to add a little spark to the Cyclone offense, as Redd converted a field goal and hit one of two free throws, but the Lady Cyclones continued to face an uphill battle trailing 20-13 with 3:39 showing in the half.
   Lacy Lane then tried to keep the Lady Cyclones from falling even further as the senior cut a nine-point deficit to seven with 1:15 remaining on a field goal and then added two free throws at the :30 mark to skin a little more off the Lady Devils bark by pulling the Lady Cyclones within six, 26-20, with time expiring in the first half.
   "We tried some different things early by playing a zone and that didn't work so we went back to the man-to-man and really got after them in the second half," stated Lady Cyclone head coach Mike Wilson. "Losing a championship game certainly hurts, but like I told the girls all we have to do is win one game, pack our bags, and head to Murfreesboro and we will forget all about this game."
   The Lady Cyclones definitely came out with spirit to begin the second half as Sarah Smith seemed to take the squad on her shoulders by playing Unicoi's super guard Meghan Headley aggressively to take her out of rhythm offensive while the Lady Cyclone offense began to click.
   Redd converted a bucket at the 6:30 mark of the third to pull the Lady Cyclones within a deuce at 26-24. The Lady Devils then went on a small spurt behind Headley and Elizabeth Weaver who converted two free throws at the 3:43 point of the quarter to put Unicoi up 32-24.
   From that point, Rikki Baughman along with Redd and Lane chopped away at the Lady Devils advantage and by the end of the period the Lady Devils maintained only a 35-33 lead.
   Elizabethton finally pulled even at 35-35 as Smith calmly sank two free throws to even the score with 7:40 left to play. Then a critical point in the game came when Lane was hit with a technical after the referee claimed Lane made a unwelcomed remark after being assessed a foul.
   Using the four foul shots to their advantage, the Lady Devils pushed their edge to three at 38-35 on three of four from the line with 6:37 showing on the clock.
   Smith then drove the lane and converted a bucket to finally give the Lady Cyclones their first lead of the game at 39-38 with 5:38 left. The lead swapped hands several times until it was Smith again as the Lady 'Clone guard converted a three point play to give the Cyclones a 42-40 edge with 3:12 remaining.
   From that point, tournament MVP Headley stepped up for the Lady Devils as she drained a trey with 2:04 to push the advantage back to the Lady Devils side of the scoreboard at 43-42 and the Lady Devils hit two more free throws down the stretch to claim the three point victory.
   "It really makes it uneasy when you have to play a team that knows everything you do like Elizabethton does," stated an emotional Headley after the game. "They have great post and wing players that don't quit, and we got kind of shaky when they tied it up but managed to keep enough composure to pull it out."
   Smith was game high scorer with 14 points with Lane adding 11 and Redd 6. Candace Shelton paced the Lady Devils with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Headley and Amber Bailey each collected 11. Weaver pulled down 10 rebounds as well for Unicoi County who continued its dominance on the glass during the tournament.
   Shelton and Bailey joined Headley on the all-tournament team along with Lady Cyclones Baughman, Lane and Smith.
   Saturday's substate action will see the Lady Cyclones travel to take on Knoxville Austin-East while Unicoi County will have a home game, where they bowed out last season, against Seymour.
   "We didn't make much of our homecourt advantage last year," said Fisher. "I just hope both teams can be successful on Saturday and get to play each other again somewhere down the road."