ERWIN — Sullivan East’s girls tried another big comeback against Elizabethton. It wouldn’t work this time.
The Lady Cyclones converted from the charity stripe and withstood a late rally from the Lady Patriots in a 72-67 District 1-AA semifinal victory Saturday afternoon at Unicoi County High School.
Elizabethton will face the winner of Happy Valley-Unicoi County in Monday’s championship game.
Morgan Depew tallied 26 points, Reazyn DeMoss added 22 and Lauren McCurry totaled 11 to pace the Lady Cyclones, who withstood a late three-point barrage from East.
In a scenario similar to their home upset of Elizabethton earlier this season, the Lady Patriots, facing a 14-point deficit at the top of the fourth quarter, made it a one-possession game with 15 seconds remaining.
It fell upon the shoulders of Depew. The junior guard, who was 10-of-16 from the charity stripe in the quarter, put the icing on the cake with two makes and the Lady Cyclones held on.
“I thought we defended better than we defended them in the past and that was a big key,” said Elizabethton coach Mike Wilson, whose team won its 20th game of the season. “I knew we could score on them. I just felt like we had to defend them.
“We played pretty well. They’re pretty good. They’re not the Sullivan East of a few years ago. They’ve gotten a lot better. They’re a good basketball team.”
Angel Trent scored 26 for East before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Savannah Summers, who scored 18, engineered the Lady Patriots’ run late with 13 points in the final stanza.
The decisive factor, according to East coach Allan Aubrey, was the third quarter, where Elizbaethton used strong offensive showings from DeMoss, Depew and Lauren McCurry, who tallied 11 points on the night, and stout defense to turn a one-point halftime advantage into a double-digit lead.
“I think we went about six minutes where we didn’t believe we could score,” said Aubrey. “I bet we missed five layups in that spell. Just great shots and we worked hard to get them and couldn’t make them. I think we hung our head for just a couple of minutes and that gave them that 14-point lead.”
East led 21-16 at the end of one thanks to a last-second three-point drainer from Trent, but the Cyclone scoring trio fought Elizabethton ahead by the break in the second quarter.
“We’ve been ready to play in the district for like three weeks now,” said DeMoss, who had one of her better offensive games of the season. “We were just ready to play. Wilson had us matched up really good and we didn’t let them shoot the three like they have been in the past.”
After a third quarter with 11 makes from the field, Elizabethton made just two field goals in the fourth quarter. However, the team was strong from the stripe when it mattered.
The Lady Cyclones were 14-of-22 in the stanza alone largely due to the play from the elusive junior guard Depew, who added 10 assists and five steals on her day.
“I think they have a hard time stopping Morgan off the dribble and that creates shots for other people,” said Wilson. “Defensively, I know it sounds silly, but we did enough of what we asked them to do to win.”
Wilson said he was proud of his team after all of the adversity it has faced throughout the season with the mid-year coaching change and departure of a key player.
“What that team has gone through this year, what they’ve gone through to get 20 wins, to be in a district championship game tells you what kind of kids we’ve got in there,” Wilson said.
“It’s definitely been tough, but we’ve all stayed together through everything,” DeMoss added. “We’ve all wanted to win and prove everybody wrong because everybody thinks that since all of this has happened to us that we wouldn’t be worth anything.”
Note: Johnson County’s boys were trailing Sullivan East in the third quarter at press time, with Happy Valley’s girls and Unicoi taking the game shortly thereafter.