Cyclones gear for top-rated Roadrunners

By Allen LaMountain

   A tough task, in the form of defending state AA champion and number one ranked Ridgeway, faces the Elizabethton Cyclones on Wednesday night at Murphy Center in Murfreesboro as the battle for state supremacy begins.
   The Roadrunners (32-4) are acknowledged as the front-runner for the title, but the Cyclones appear to not be intimidated by that fact, and are instead looking forward to the challenge.
   "I think that Ridgeway is the best team in the state regardless of classification," said Cyclone head coach Tony Hardin. "They have good size -- with two kids 6-6 and at least one 6-4 player, and they are deserving of the ranking. But I don't think that we feel intimidated by that.
   "We have played good competition all season. In the Arby's tournament and against Clinton, I think that those teams presented the same type of challenge Ridgeway does. You have to play them at some point, so why not right off the bat."
   The 'Runners have post size with 6-6 senior post Carlos Suggs, 6-6 junior wing Rorey Lawrence and 6-4 forward Roderick Okoth and quickness with guards Yual Banks, Andre Scales and Marcus Smith.
   Okoth led Ridgeway's 61-46 victory over Fayette-Ware in the sectional with 14 points, while Banks added 13 and three others tallied 10 as the Roadrunners had five players in double figure scoring.
   In fact, balance has been the key for Ridgeway all season with major bench contributions as well as a solid starting five and a coaching staff that has taken the team to state championships in 2000 and 2002.
   The thing the Roadrunners most have in common with the Cyclones (30-4) is that both teams like to press and force turnovers as a means of producing quick scores, and both teams apply pressure from the perimeter.
   Senior wing B.J. Miller give EHS solid three-point shooting and forces teams to extend defensively, and that will be a key to Cyclone success against Ridgeway, who are quick and disciplined.
   If Miller and Jordan Lambert can hit some outside shots and put pressure on the Roadrunners to defend the outside, then post Vince Redd may get some room to operate inside.
   "From watching (Ridgeway) on tape, we know they are good," said Redd. "But we can't back down from the challenge. We have to step up and play as a team, like we have all season and keep doing what got us here. If we play strong defense and get some turnovers we have a chance to win the game. I hope a lot of our fans show up because they always get the team excited and they have been behind us all year."
   The focus going into the sectional contest against Alcoa was to get the Tornadoes spread out to give Redd inside room, but 'Betsy's outside shot was not clicking as they connected on just two-of-eight (25 percent).
   Miller however, was two-for-three from distance and his trey in the fourth quarter broke a 31-31 tie to give EHS a 34-31 lead.
   "We knew from losing in that (sub-state) game the year before, that we didn't want to feel like that again," said Miller. "We came into the season with a goal in mind to accomplish, and we remembered that, and that gave us the energy we needed to prevail in the fourth quarter. We won't be happy to just go to the state, we want to play well and earn some respect. East Tennessee teams historically haven't fared well, but we want to show that good teams are good teams no matter what region they're from."
   Losing senior guard Walter Brown to a knee injury is the type of thing that could have sent the Cyclones reeling, as his on-court presence meant a lot to EHS on both ends of the court.
   However, the Cyclones haven't been devastated by the injury, but have instead rallied around Brown as an inspiration to the squad.
   "Walter was a large part of the team," said Miller. "He was a great penetrator on offense and created shots for everyone. On defense he would be a big part of the trapping defense. I think he's a big motivator for us now, because he gets on us when we aren't playing well."
   Another player who could have an impact is senior post Brad Holtsclaw, who rallied EHS in the second half against Alcoa. If Holtsclaw can make some inside buckets and grab some boards on the offensive end he could make things tough on Ridgeway defensively in the paint.
   Ridgeway would appear to have a significant advantage in state tournament experience having won two titles in three seasons -- and that is significant -- but not something that can't be overcome.
   "We have played in a lot of pressure games in front of a lot of packed houses," said Hardin. "We know how to handle tough situations. We want to go to Murfreesboro and show the state a good basketball team. All summer long -- coming into the season -- any time things got tough we reminded ourselves of our goals. And the number one goal was to get here. We are enjoying the ride that got us here, but our focus now has to be on playing well when we tip it off on Wednesday."