Lady Cyclones flex their post-season muscle, overpower Grainger 63-44

Published 7:56 am Monday, February 26, 2024

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By Ron Marvel

Star Correspondent

The loss in the District Championship earlier in the week to the David Crockett Pioneers did not sit well with Lady Cyclones Head Coach Lucas Andrews. There would not be a repeat of it Friday night. The Lady Cyclones appeared focused and physical as their defense stymied the sharp-shooting Grizzlies in the opener of the TSSAA Regional Tournament.

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Things got off to a slow start in the first period in the friendly confines of John Treadway Gymnasium as both teams’ offenses took short jabs to see which defense would get out of position first. Peyton McGee and Marlee Mathena hit 3-pointers to push the Lady Cyclones out in front 6-3. However, that would highlight the scoring as the period ended with the Cyclones up 8-4. One thing became evident early: the Cyclones would not allow turnovers to hound them like they did against Crockett. “Practice was rough but good. We went over composure under pressure. We knew going forward that teams would put a lot of pressure on us, so we guarded each other in practice to replicate that,” Cyclones Senior Center Marlee Mathena shared.

That composure reflected itself in the second period as the Lady Cyclones went on an 18-2 run. Michelle Shields helped spark that run with seven points in the period. Cyclones guard Reiley Whitson jumped in on the run early, hitting two 3-pointers from long range. As the half ended, Kayelyn Nave banked home a layup at the buzzer to push the Cyclones’ lead to 30-12. “We started to hit our marks offensively. Three days of practice and watching the film of that Crockett game, we really critiqued ourselves and said this is what we have to fix going forward. Proud of our kids and the way they responded,” Coach Andrews exclaimed. “You have to value the basketball; every possession in this tournament matters,” Coach Andrews added.

The second half saw the Grizzlies try to claw themselves back into the game with a pair of treys from Addison Brickley, but each time they hit a shot, the Lady Cyclones, and in particular Michelle Shields, were there to reverse the momentum. The sharp-shooting Cyclones guard finished the game with nineteen points, including nine points in the third period. “My teammates helped me get open shots. Give it up for my teammates,” Shields stated. It would be a disservice not to give credit to the Lady Cyclones’ defense as they contested every shot from a Grainger team that can get into rhythm from 3-point territory. The combination of Mathena, Nave, and Jamira Smalls seemed to grab every contested rebound in the second half.

Just as Grainger was getting adjusted to the Cyclones’ barrage from outside, the Cyclones started to push the ball inside, and Mathena and Smalls muscled up shots to push the Cyclones’ lead to 24 and seal the win. Besides Shields, McGee added eleven, and Mathena chipped in nine plus nine rebounds. The Cyclones will now hit the road Monday night and travel to Claiborne County to play Volunteer (18-12) in the Region 1-3A semifinals with an opportunity for their third sectional berth. With games earlier in the season against Pikeville, Oak Ridge, and Bearden, this is a road-tested Cyclones team that understands what it takes to travel a couple of hours on a bus and keep their focus on the task at hand. “If you look at our schedule, there were a bunch of games where we traveled two hours. That was on purpose. We knew the tournament was going to be at Claiborne. We had to condition our bodies to travel and get off the bus and be ready to play,” Andrews shared.