And then there were three

Published 11:59 pm Friday, March 6, 2020

Two weeks are all is left of the 2019-2020 prep basketball season and after playing in earnest since mid-November, there are only three teams left in Carter County that have a possibility of playing to the very end of the season.
On Saturday, the Cloudland Lady Highlanders and Elizabethton Lady Cyclones take to the hardwood looking to earn one of eight spots in the TSSAA Basketball Championships which will take place at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Then on Monday, the Hampton Boys will have their shot at achieving the same goal of making it to the state tournament.
First of all congratulations to all the Carter County teams for your hard work that you put into another season of basketball. Each team gave their all in representing their community and school to the best of the ability and for that we applaud you.
Secondly, for the three remaining teams ever Carter Countian is behind you as you take on your opponent in a bid to play for a gold ball.
Here is a brief look at each game on tap this weekend.
Cloudland Lady Highlanders vs Oneida
Coach Matt Birchfield and the ladies from Roan Mountain will board the bus on Saturday for the drive to Oneida in search of punching their ticket to the Big Dance.
The Lady Highlanders have played solid basketball the entire season with the only thorn in their flesh being the North Greene Lady Huskies. Having played four times, the Lady Huskies got the one that the Lady ‘Landers wanted the most and that was the region title.
However, that doesn’t mean that the end is near as the Lady Highlanders play a high caliber of basketball and I fully expect Cloudland to return back to Carter County with a win and a berth to state.
It won’t be easy by no stretch of the imagination but anyone familiar with Highlander basketball knows there is no quit in this team and they will battle from the opening tip to the final horn.
Prediction: Cloudland 51, Oneida 47
Elizabethton Lady Cyclones vs Gatlinburg-Pittman
If there was one coach in the area that deserves to be named Coach of the Year for girls,  it would be the Cyclones Lucas Andrews who has somehow patched and doctored his team in the early going of the season and finally watched as his team became a solid group after healing from their illnesses and injuries.
Elizabethton has run off some huge wins over the last three weeks beating Sullivan East in the district tourney after two losses in the regular season, Sullivan Central in the district championship, and then running off wins against Cumberland Gap, South Greene, and finally Grainger County in the regional championship.
The Grainger win was one of the most impressive as the Lady Grizzlies came into the game with a glaring 31-2 record and being ranked in the top three teams in Class AA in the state most of the season.
Playing in a hostile environment with fans screaming in their ears when they played along the student body sideline to having to fight through a full-court press while holding on tight to what once was a 19-point lead to win by 10 on Grainger’s home court was amazing to witness.
Now the Lady Cyclones ready for an opportunity to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2015 when they host Gatlinburg-Pittman on Saturday.
Andrews is hoping to see the stands filled and overflowing in black-clad fans to cheer his team on.
In speaking to the coach earlier in the day on Friday, I asked what he thought was the overall key in winning the game on Saturday.
He came back with two keys – one psychological and one basketball-related.
First, he told me that his team needed to continue the strong rebounding that they have shown during their successful streak. Secondly, Andrews said the biggest part of the game would be keeping composure.
That same composure was what helped the Lady Cyclones against Grainger when they threw on a stingy press to cut into the Lady Cyclones lead.
Andrews realizes his team will have the big crowd and is looking to put Lady Cyclone basketball back on the map. If those two things come together it should be a magical night.
Prediction: Elizabethton 56, Gatlinburg-Pittman 49
Hampton boys vs Harriman
Just as thrilling as watching the Lady Cyclones make their run through the Region 1-AA tournament was watching the Hampton Bulldogs pull together and play from opening tip to final horn in winning huge games over Cosby and University High to claim the Region 1-A Boys Championship.
The Bulldogs had to literally fight their way through Cosby to earn the right to play U-H for the title as an unfortunate incident played out due to some overzealous and unruly fans from Cosby that caused some problems for Hampton players and their fans and family.
Thankfully for Hampton, the Bulldogs have one of the calmest and mild-mannered coaches around in Ned Smith who would rather let his team’s play on the court speak for him.
As a matter of fact, they may have to start calling Smith ‘Professor’ the way that he has been teaching the Bulldogs opponents how Hampton basketball is played.
Smith has been using a rotation of around 9-10 players that have proved invaluable as by the fourth quarter, his team has worn down his opponents physically affecting their shooting both from the floor and the foul line.
And while Jordan Bentley has been held in check, others like Rocky Croy, Caleb Oaks, Izaak Hill, Conor Jones, Morgan Lyons, and Matt Hughes have stepped up to take up the offensive slack along with superior ball handling from Garrett Vines.
With a huge crowd expected to flood VanHuss-White Gym on Monday, it should be some rocking-good basketball.
Prediction: Hampton 65, Harriman 55
All games will begin at 7 pm. 

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