By Gene Renfro
Elizabethton helped to muddy the Three Rivers Conference boys standings Friday night by knocking off one of the three teams tied for first as the Cyclones defended the home court with a 66-54 win over Sullivan East.
Photo by Danny Davis - The Cyclones’ Zach Norwood (42) looks to get the ball underneath.
The victory gave the Cyclones a 5-3 record in the league, which matches the Patriots’ conference mark. Both squads are positioned a game behind Unicoi County and Sullivan North, who remained tied at the top.
All four squads have two conference contests left with numerous possibilities on how the race could end up. The top two teams not only receive byes into the District 1-AA semifinals, but automatic bids to the Region 1-AA tournament.
Elizabethton faces off with Sullivan North to wrap up the conference slate on Feb. 10, but before that the Cyclones go to Happy Valley Friday. The Cyclones, now 15-5 overall, start the week off by playing Gate City Monday before welcoming Hampton Tuesday.
The Cyclones could not ask for much of a better start by opening up a 7-0 lead with four points from Aaron Miller 2:10 into the action. Miller ended up with a game-best 19 points.
“I thought we played with a whole lot more desire to win the game rather than playing to keep from getting beat,” Elizabethton head coach Len Dugger said.
That desire helped as the home team never trailed in the game. Elizabethton went onto build a 19-5 lead when Michael Wagner scored with 84 seconds left in the opening quarter and forced a timeout by Sullivan East.
Eventually, Sullivan East was within six with an 8-0 run that ended 31 seconds into the second quarter. Elizabethton’s Justin Wandell ended the Patriot spurt with two of his 10 points in the game to match his jersey number.
From there, Sullivan East clawed back to be within one, 28-27 with two free throws by Logan Jordan a minute before halftime. Zach Norwood boosted Elizabethton’s lead with a score seven seconds before the buzzer.
The third quarter was the Cyclones, all but the final 15 seconds. In the first 7:45 of the period, Elizabethton outscored Sullivan East 20-5 and enjoyed a 50-32 lead. David Cassidy hit back-to-back 3-pointers in those final seconds for one more push, but Elizabethton would lead by at least eight points the rest of the game.
Cassidy led the Patriots with 17 points thanks in part to three 3-pointers. The Cyclones were effective at the free throw line in those final eight minutes, going 10-for-13 to help keep Sullivan East at bay.
“I told them after Tuesday’s game (a 60-59 loss against Unicoi County), I said let’s not worry about the conference, let’s not worry about this or that. I said let’s just play one game at a time and just try to improve and play the best we can play,” Dugger added about the approach. “We had a couple good days of practice and the kids came out with a little different look.”
Will Robinson totaled 12 points for Elizabethton to give the Cyclones three players in double-digits, joining Wandell and Miller. Sullivan East had the same number of players to score at least 10, with Cassidy joined by Daniel Truett and Chance Davis with 13 and 11, respectively.
“I’m so proud of these kids. I thought tonight they came out fought and battled and a lot of kids contributed,” Dugger commented. “We got some quality contributions with people coming off the bench also tonight.”