ERWIN — An emotion-filled second quarter couldn’t derail T.A. Dugger.
Following the injury of a teammate and heated exchange between a parent and game official, the sharp-shooting Lady Jr. Cyclones took control in the second half with a 30-5 run and blew away Unicoi 69-41 to claim the Middle 8 Conference championship Thursday at Unicoi Middle School.
“They responded a lot better than I thought they would,” said T.A. Dugger coach Lucas Honeycutt. “We came out there and I was a little worried about it because I know they were worried about her. They’re all a pretty tight group. They came out of it pretty quick.”
The Lady Cyclones, who drained 13 three-point buckets on the game, connected on four treys in the third quarter and added three more in the fourth as they turned a five-point lead into a 30-point advantage over a span of eight minutes.
“That’s the best we’ve shot it all year,” Honeycutt said. “They just came alive. It was all them.”
Emily Kiser and Melinda Perry each scored 20 points and Kayla Marosites added 14 to lead the nine Lady Cyclones, who got on the board in the game.
The win gives T.A. Dugger a first-round bye in the area tournament, where they will face the winner of Ross Robinson and Colonial Heights Tuesday in second-round play at John Sevier Middle School in Kingsport.
Unicoi and T.A. Dugger fought back-and-forth at the top of the game. Kiser and Perry each drained two three-balls in the opening frame while Marosites scored four points to help their squad to an eight-point lead.
Five Lady Devils got in on the action, however, and Keelie Hall busted a late trey to make it a five-point game entering the second quarter, when the game was largely overshadowed by controversy surrounding an injury to one of the players.
In the second quarter, with T.A. Dugger holding onto its lead, a Lady Cyclone stepped in the line of a fast-moving Unicoi player’s direction — looking to draw a charge — and the two players collided hard and took a rough landing upon the playing floor.
The official closest to the scene of the impact called a blocking foul on the injured T.A. Dugger player, setting off the father of the Lady Cyclone, who — in the heat of the moment — immediately leaped from his seat onto the edge of the court with a vocal tirade directed toward the official who called the foul.
The official immediately ejected the fan as he stepped onto the court and the pair engaged in physical contact as parents and administrators from both sides rushed the hardwood to separate the two men.
The stoppage of play, as the result of the injury, was approximately 25 minutes and fans from both sides gave the injured Lady Cyclone a standing ovation as she was aided by stretcher from the gymnasium.
The teams resumed play after a one-minute official time-out and T.A. Dugger pushed its lead to 11 with another trey from Perry.
Unicoi fought within three from the foul line and a trey from Deah Seward, who led her squad with 12 points, then closed the gap at two with a bucket from Neele Griffith.
Kiser returned the momentum to T.A. Dugger by the end of the half, burying the third of her five threes to give her team a five-point lead.
The third quarter was all T.A. Dugger.
Kelsey and Kayla Marosites ignited the team’s second-half run with treys on alternating possessions. Shy Bowers scored five points and Kayla Marosites added a second trey to make it a 16-point game entering the fourth.
Kiser scored the first eight points of the stanza to make it a 24-point game, then Perry and Kayla Marosites followed with three buckets to make it a 30-5 run and give the Cyclones a 30-point lead.
Unicoi was unable to answer the bell.
Honeycutt said a key to the team’s offensive play was its defensive efforts, particularly guarding Unicoi standout Hannah Rice, who was limited to nine points.
“The little Rice girl is a great player and she was a lot of our focus,” said Honeycutt. “We did a great job on her tonight. It was a great defensive effort. We did a much better job pressing in the second half.”
In a tournament where a number of Lady Cyclones were deserving of post-game honors, Perry, Bowers, Kiser and Kelsey Marosites all earned all-tournament selections while Kayla Marosites was named the tournament’s MVP.
Seward, Rice and Abbey True wrapped up the team for Unicoi County.
Aside from the second-quarter altercation, two other T.A. Dugger parents had to be restrained in separate incidents late or after the game.
In the fourth quarter, one was halted prior to reaching the court when the second official refused to blow the whistle on hard contact in the final five seconds of the already-decided contest.
The third parent was ejected from the building prior to the awards ceremony following a verbal exchange.