Lady 'Clones fall short at Austin-East

By Allen LaMountain

   KNOXVILLE -- Fighting to overcome a nine-point first half deficit and claw back to pull to a 51-51 deadlock early in the fourth quarter, took its toll on the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones as Austin-East senior guard Ida Sammons 25-point effort led the Lady Roadrunners back to Murfreesboro and a shot at the State AA title.
   Austin-East won 64-54 on Saturday night at Clifford H. Ross Gymnasium and with the win makes its way back to the big dance, where they fell in the semifinals last season.
   'Betsy had turnover problems for much of the first half and did not fully capitalize on free throw opportunities either. EHS shot 9-of-15 (60 percent) from the charity stripe in the first half as Austin-East built a 42-33 halftime advantage.
   For their part, the Lady Roadrunners were a stellar 10-of-13 (76.9 percent) and shot 15-of-27 (55.7 percent) from the floor as Sammons' scored 19 first half points.
   "I wasn't pleased with our lack of focus at times," commented Lady 'Runners head coach John Anderson. "We will need to get back our aggressiveness if we want to get past where we were last year. EHS came out and got after us, and stayed on us all night."
   In the first quarter the Lady Cyclones stayed with Austin-East who led just 20-18 after one stanza, but in a game of ebb and flows and runs in points, the Roadrunners made a big one.
   In the second period with 'Betsy having taken a 25-24 lead on a three-point bucket from Jordan Crowe, Austin-East outscored EHS 18-8 rest of the way until the break.
   That 18-8 spurt included a 10-0 run that saw Austin-East build a slim 32-29 lead into a 42-29 advantage with time slipping away in the first half of action.
   "We have been taught from day one here to attack the basket," said Sammons. "That's what I try to do, and the rest of the team gets after the boards. We want to try and collapse the other team's defense and let someone slip in under them to get an offensive rebound. That's what usually works for us."
   The Lady 'Runners fired quickly out of the gate in the third period, bumping their lead back up to 13 points at 48-35 before Lacy Lane and Valneesha Redd got 'Betsy's deficit back under 10 points at 48-40 with 3:43 remaining in the third quarter.
   "Basketball is a game of runs and each team had some of those tonight," said Lady Cyclone head coach Mike Wilson. "It took a lot out of us to have to keep fighting our way back into it. The Sammons girl, we just couldn't guard her effectively tonight. Her quickness and her ability to beat us off the dribble kept giving them offensive rebound opportunities."
   The Lady Cyclones had one last burst left in them as they fought back to forge a 51-51 deadlock early in the fourth period on buckets by Tanya Dykes, Brandi Forbes, Redd and Sarah Smith.
   Smith's free throw at the 4:42 mark of regulation got EHS even, but Austin-East also had one last salvo to fire before things would be settled.
   Sammons hit a pair of free throws and Nicole Brazelton -- who pitched in for A-E with 17 points and seven rebounds -- hit a key bucket to help the Lady 'Runners to a 59-51 lead.
   A basket by Rikki Baughman made it a 61-53 game, but Brazelton answered with a bucket off an offensive rebound to make it a 10-point A-E lead once again at the 1:37 mark.
   "You have to tip your hat to Austin-East, they made the plays when they had to," said Wilson. "Brazelton hurt us bad on the offensive boards, and like I said, we expended so much energy just to get back into it, that it made it hard down the stretch."
   Redd was the top scorer for EHS with 14 points, while Baughman had 13 and Smith tallied 11.
   For the Lady Cyclones, the season comes to a close with a tough defeat, but with just three players being lost to graduation -- Lane, Smith and Crowe -- 'Betsy will have a strong nucleus of returning players to perhaps gain another shot next season.
   "Well, we are optimistic about the future," said Wilson. "We lose some awfully good players though in our seniors. It will be hard to replace them, but we have a good group coming back. The disappointing thing is that you never know if you will improve from one year to the next. You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you get this far and we didn't."