By Rick Sheek
KINGSPORT — There will be no all-Carter County championship in the Peoples Bank Holiday Classic, but Elizabethton’s basketball team did its part.
Photo by Bart Nave/www.bart.ifp3.com - The Cyclones’ Nikolai Simpson bulls his way down the lane at J. Richard Carroll Gym.
The Cyclones held off Sullivan South 46-43 in Thursday night’s semifinals at J. Richard Carroll Gymnasium. Unaka, meanwhile, came up short to Morristown West 50-49 in the nightcap.
Elizabethton (9-3) meets West (8-7) in tonight’s final at 8:30. The Rangers (8-6) face South (7-6) earlier in the third-place contest.
Photo by Bart Nave/www.bart.ifp3.com - Michael Wagner scores on a dunk for the Cyclones against Sullivan South on Thursday night. Getting a close look is the Rebels’ Ryan Headrick.
Will Robinson propeled the Cyclones ahead for good with 3:25 remaining, and the lead was five until a late 3-pointer from the Rebels.
“Again, I thought defensively we played well,” Elizabethton coach Len Dugger said. “I thought our kids played with a lot more effort. They’re really buying into playing tough defense. I think they’re taking a great deal of pride in that.”
Justin Wandell paced the Cyclones with 16 points, eight rebonds and four steals. Robinson added 10 points and eight boards.
Michael Wagner scored eight, while Aaron Miller totaled six points and eight rebounds.
“We made some poor decisions the last couple of minutes on certain things,” Dugger said. “But, we fought through the adversity and didn’t give up. I saw a lot of maturity, a lot more mental toughness than what they’ve had, and that is just a tribute to their character, desire to want to play well and do some good things.
“I was just pleased with the way they hung in there after making some decisions that were a little adverse, and still pull out the win.”
South got 12 and 10 points, respectively from A.J. Hutchins and Michael Herr. The Rebels were 8 of 16 at the foul line, while Elizabethton was 14 of 18.
“South’s a good team, very-well coached and they’re big, too,” Dugger said. “Again, people coming off the bench. We drew some charges tonight, which just really thrilled me to see them stepping in there and taking some charges.
“We did a lot of nice things, and I think if we would have finished the game a little differently the final score would have been maybe a little different. You’ve got to give South and their coaching staff credit for not giving up, also, but I’m real proud of this bunch of kids and the way they battled through that tonight — and made enough plays to come out with the win, and they’re in the championship game.”
Behind four points apiece from Wandell and Wagner, the Cyclones led 11-6 through one quarter.
Robinson hit four in the second period. Elizabethton trailed by three, before regrouping to lead 20-17 at the break on a Wagner put-back.
The Cyclones trailed 33-32 heading in the final period, after South had led by four in the third. Wandell drained a pair of 3-pointers that period and Miller scored four points.
Robinson tallied six in the final quarter. It was 45-40 on a pair of Wandell free throws with 17.5 seconds remaining.
The coach hung around and scouted tonight’s opponent.
“Awful athletic,” Dugger said. “Very athletic. Morristown is well coached, too.”