Event suggests exciting season in the making

Photo by John Bryant
Hunter’s Cody Cornett gets set to turn loose a jump shot as Little Milligan’s Travis Potter plays tough defense.

  By Don Teague

  BLOUNTVILLE--Watauga Conference boys basketball play this year promises to bring an exciting, fast-paced, physical brand of play to area gyms this year, if Thursday's jamboree at Sullivan Central was an accurate portrayal of the season to come.
  The first matchup of the evening pitted two teams generally considered to be the conference's prime title contenders against each other. Tony Vaughn's Central Cougars edged 81-year-old coaching icon Charlie Bayless' Happy Valley Warriors 35-32 in the opening 16-minute scrimmage.
  The Cougars, fielding what appears to be the conference's deepest team, took a 6-5 lead two minutes into the contest and never relenquished the lead against the team with arguably the most talented starting five among area AA teams, led by all-state candidate Alex Carroll.
  The 6-7 Carroll was on the receiving end of several nice passes in the paint that led to a team-high 10 points from the big man. Seven other Warriors cracked the scoring column.
  Nine Cougars registered points led by their own mobile post, 6-4 Jeff Beverly, who scored nine and did yeoman work on the boards, holding his own against the taller Carroll.
  Coach Bayless was pleased with his team, stating: "We did well. I used a lot of boys, gave them a little experience."
  The second contest of the night matched coach Tony Hardin's Elizabethton Cyclones against the Johnson County Longhorns of Coach Austin Atwood, with the boys from 'Betsy coming out on top, 34-19.
  Hardin's squad, playing without the services of four players still toiling with the playoff contending football Cyclones, spotted the 'Horns an early 5-0 lead, then went on a 17-1 run over the next five minutes to take a commanding 17-6 lead with nine minutes left in the 16-minute affair.
  Johnson County picked up the defensive intensity for a few minutes and cut the lead to 20-14, only to watch the Cyclones go on another run, scoring nine unanswered points to put the game out of reach, 29-14, with 2:40 to play.
  The 'Horns watched any chances to scratch back into the game disappear at the foul line, converting only eight of 20 free throws in a game that saw both teams in double bonus situations with over five minutes left.
  High jumping 6-0 junior guard Derrick Nave, who won the evening's slam-dunk contest, led eight Cyclones in the scoring column with 12 points, followed by soph guard Jon Grindstaff and 6-5 junior post Andrew Norman, who dominated the boards, with six points each.
  When asked about his team's sharp outing, particularly on the boards and defensively in the passing lanes, Hardin commented, "We hang our hats on defending and rebounding. If you can get kids to buy into that, you can be in just about every game whether you're shooting good or not."
  Coach Mark McClain's Hampton Bulldogs took the floor after watching a Carter County sweep of the night's skills contests, watching their own Travis Smith win the three-point contest prior to Nave's arial exploits in the dunk contest.
  The entire 'Dogs roster logged good playing time as they fell to Unicoi County's Blue Devils 24-21, as Lucas Honeycutt's attempt to tie the the game with a three was tipped with two seconds left.
  Honeycutt's first attempt of the game didn't miss, as the 5-7 senior guard reminded some fans of Coach McClain's exploits as a Bulldog guard a few years back, hitting a three from the top of the key for a 3-0 Hampton lead before three-point champ Travis Smith, a 5-8 senior, nailed a long two from the corner.
  Unicoi got on the scoreboard with an Ike Weaver free throw at the 12:40 mark, and the Devils held Hampton at bay until they took an 8-6 lead at the halfway point of the contest, as the taller Unicoi County team began to take control of the boards, an area of concern for McClain entering his first season at the helm.
  Down 15-9, Hampton took advantage of a timeout and cut the lead to 15-14 following a three-point play by 6-5 post Jordan Honeycutt and a bucket by 6-2 senior Daniel Smith.
  McClain emptied his bench, getting valuable playing time for his three freshmen and key reserves, only to see the Devils stretch the lead to 24-14 with just over a minute to play.
  6-2 junior starter Alex Ingram led a furious Hampton comeback bid, hitting two free throws and a clutch three before the game ended with the Blue Devils on top 24-21.
  The night's finale featured Todd Whittemore's Volunteer Falcons aginst the scrappy Raiders of Sullivan North and first-year head coach Matt Baker.
  The Falcons' standout freshman point guard, 6-1 Keith Cradic, started his varsity career off in style, hitting a three from the corner for a 3-0 Volunteer lead that was upped to 7-0 before North got on the scoreboard with an Adam King three pointer.
  Volunteer was up 12-8 at the 11:05 mark when both teams went into a three-minute scoring drought that was broken when the Raider's Geoff Hinkle drove the middle for a nice layup.
  With the game tied at 17 with 5:31 to play, Volunteer went into a press that forced several turnovers and resultant scores to go up 22-17. 6-6 Matt Hansen put in a layup at the buzzerto bring North within two as the game ended 25-23 in favor of Volunteer.