Resilient Lady Cyclones lose in final two seconds

By Kim Richardson
STAR Correspondent

   It came down to the last possession to determine which team will head to Murfreesboro to challenge for the state championship this week.
   Elizabethton Lady Cyclones head coach Mike Wilson summed it up: "You have one of the best players in the state, the score is tied and they have the ball. We knew they would put the ball in her hand, as they should have. She is a great player."
   The "she" Coach Wilson was referring to was Oliver Springs point guard Laura Hall. She dribbled the final 30-plus seconds down inside 10 and drove into the lane, where Rikki Baughman attacked from her right side, stopping her dribble. Six-one Brandi Forbes then fronted Hall, who is no taller than 5-5.
   Hall initiated contact, stepped back and went up to shoot. Forbes partially blocked Hall's shot. Forbes was also whistled for a personal shooting foul with two meager seconds showing on the clock.
   "Any time there's a play like that at the end there's going to be second guessing," said Coach Wilson. "I'm not going to get into that. I think Brandi had to contest the shot. You simply cannot allow that shot. She's a great player; we did what we had to do.
   "We had her fronted, plus Rikki was there. No way was she going to make that shot. Unfortunately, we had to watch a great free-throw shooter sink two free throws. But there was no way we could have defended it better. Brandi did a great job."
   Most everyone in the audience would no doubt have preferred that the referee fronting the play make the call. Instead the referee farthest from the play, and on the back side, blew his whistle. And that's that.
   There was contact. There's inevitably going to be contact in the lane inside five seconds remaining in a tie game. It appeared from the right side that Hall initially leaned in with her shoulder before jumping to shoot; to shoot a shot that was never going to clear the vertically outstretched hands of Brandi Forbes. Many will question that particular call, and the resulting 45-43 loss to the Bobcats for weeks and years to come.
   But this is for certain: The Elizabethton Lady Cyclones won a lot of games this season, including the regional final against South Greene. They won several of those games on sheer determination.
   When asked about his team's will to overcome an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit in the final three minutes of the game, Coach Wilson simply replied: "Guts." These ladies have battled through so much. They might have lost, but they sure did play their hardest.
   Baughman was all over the floor, rebounding making putbacks and free throws after being fouled while out hustling the Oliver Springs ladies to the ball.
   "She was an outright scavenger," said Lady Bobcat Brianne Lankford. "We feel that the biggest difference in the game was our boxing out. We felt that we did a pretty good job of it, but that number 23, she came from nowhere. And number 25 (Tanya Dykes) was quick and scrappy."
   Tia Goins agreed that her teammates felt that the key to victory for Oliver Springs was rebounding.
   "Fifty-three (Michaela Pietrowski) and thirty-one (Forbes) were actually intimidating," Goins said. "I think they have a very good team, and one thing's for certain: they never gave up, not down to that final shot."
   That final shot was Baughman's desperation attempt at the buzzer that missed.
   Then there was Hall. She totaled 25 points, including the heartbreaking, controversial final two free throws.
   "We gave it all we had, and they surely did too," Hall said.
   That final drive to the basket began in John Treadway Gymnasium and will end for Oliver Springs sometime this week in Murfreesboro. That drive and resulting free throws also ended the hopes and dreams of an amazing Lady Cyclones team. Who the Lady Bobcats play is of no consequence. Not yet.
   The home crowd would have preferred a "no call," just as the Cloudland Highlanders faithful preferred last week at Milligan college after Unaka's Derek Cline calmly sank the first of his allotted two free throws moments after a controversial whistle had doomed Cloudland to the second seed in their regional tournament, where they were ultimately defeated by the District 2 champion Indians of Hancock County High School.
   That whistle was still blowing when the final buzzer sounded, two seconds earlier than the fateful whistle sounded for the Lady Cyclones; the whistle that will ring throughout many sleepless nights for many Lady Cyclones players, parents and coaches.
   "We felt that we played very hard and lost to a good team, and we wish them the best of luck in Murfreesboro," said Lady Cyclone point guard Whitney Bishop.
   Bishop's heir apparent, Cameron Crapps, echoed Bishop's sentiments, saying: "We aren't going to dwell on the final play, that final foul. We realize that we needed to play better, protect the ball better. It seemed that during the third quarter we lost our concentration. We made a couple bad passes and it had a bad effect on us."
   "We got caught looking a couple times," said Baughman. "We needed to be a little more confident and determined.
   "Valerie (Kauffeld) was quick and made a great steal, giving us a chance to tie it up."
   Valnessha Redd made two critical free throws when fouled after Kauffeld's steal. Redd also hit a very crucial three-pointer.
   "Yes, we'll miss those seniors," Wilson said. "Tanya, she brings so much energy; Whitney has been a great floor leader and Brandi has given her all and improved so much. And then there's Valerie. Valerie is without a doubt, the most improved player I've had the privilege to coach. They've all meant so much to our team."
   But many will return. Baughman, Crapps, Pietrowski and Redd. And there's more. There's Eden Treadway, Marti Bush Whitney Norris and other. The cupboards aren't bare in Elizabethton.
   And as to the graduating Lady Cyclones, they can reflect on 2003-04 with pride and accomplishment. The returners can look ahead to one of the deepest, most talented teams the Cyclones will field in several years.