Cyclones nip Warriors in classic battle

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   An old-fashioned Tennessee barn-burner.
   In a classic renewal of the Elizabethton-Happy Valley rivalry, the Cyclones went into Bayless Gym and came away with a hard fought 64-62 win against the homestanding Warriors.
   "It was a great basketball game, one of those throwback kind of games," said Cyclone head coach Tony Hardin. "The crowd was in it -- they had a great time. There were a lot of close calls and it was exciting. I thought it was a great effort by both teams. I'm extremely tickled to come out here with a win."
   To a large extent, it was a game of spurts. Elizabethton scored 10 straight at the end of the first quarter to go ahead 17-7 at the end of the period. Midway through the second, Happy Valley put up 10 unanswered to take a four-point lead themselves. After trading free throws, a bucket by J.C. Atkinson pulled the Cyclones within two right before the half.
   Coming out with a 32-30 lead after the break, the Warriors scored six more to go up by eight. They seemed on the verge of putting the game away after a pair of free throws by John Bulla, but the Cyclones came roaring back.
   "They shot the ball well and they scrapped," said HV head coach Charlie Bayless about the EHS comeback. "We were running the ball good in the third quarter and we got away from it. Then we got in our half court offense and we didn't execute it worth a hoot."
   After trailing by six points with a little over a minute left in the game, it would be Happy Valley's turn to claw their way back in. In the final minute, they closed to one point down on two occasions after scores by Tim Whaley and Andrew Bowman.
   In that last part of the game with Adam Turley, Charles Peters and Brandon Blevins all on the sidelines for EHS, point guard Chris Vaughn was the player who handled the ball and delivered free throws in the clutch. None was bigger than his shot with 13 seconds remaining that put the Cyclones up by four at 64-60.
   "Without a doubt this is the biggest game I've ever played in," said Vaughn, who totaled 18 points. "When some of our main players went out, I felt I had to step it up."
   Unflappable at the line, Vaughn was seemingly unaffected by a loud chorus of yells. Looking straight ahead, he dared not to turn his focus away from the basket ahead.
   "We practice those free throws every day," said Vaughn "You have to hit them all when they count. If you look away and lose the basket for one second, it's off. You have to be totally focused."
   Alex Carroll scored a basket for Happy Valley with seven seconds left, but out of timeouts, the Warriors were helpless as the clock ran down.
   Blevins was the star for the Cyclones early, scoring 10 points and registering four steals in the first quarter. He ended up with 13 overall in the game and was complimented by a couple of eight point efforts from Peters and Jonathan Laing.
   Turley scored six, while Brandon Blevins also scored six and grabbed a couple of key rebounds late in the game as noted by the opposing coach.
   "They outscrapped us and beat us under the boards at the end," said Bayless. "I think that beat us more than anything. I thought we would be able to outrebound them. They are a little smaller than they have been, but they were quicker and they jumped well."
   Whaley was the leading scorer for Happy Valley with 18, while Bulla had 12. Caldwell scored nine, Chris Rutledge tallied seven and Bowman netted five to become HV's other offensive leaders.
   Losing such a tough game at home was a painful experience for the Warrior players.
   "We knew how big of a game this was against Elizabethton and we came out to play as hard as we could," said guard Todd Caldwell. "We made some mistakes that cost us at the end. It's so hard to lose to a rival like Elizabethton, but I guess that's the way it goes."
   The win propelled the Cyclones to the top of the Watauga Conference standings. Happy Valley now has two losses in league play, each by two points.
   "The win tonight says a lot about our program," said Hardin. "Some people in the stands don't know some of these kids' names, but they come in and play hard every day. They came in here and gave an unbelievable defensive effort and executed in the fourth quarter. This was just a fun game."