By Tim Chambers
ELIZABETHTON— Hard work and dedication are often rewarded and that was the case on Friday night for the Lady Longhorns. Head coach Leon Tolley and his staff trotted out a completely overhauled squad that would have made “Bob the Builder” proud inside of Treadway Gymnasium.
The Lady Longhorns shocked Cyclones fans with a stunning 55-54 win, in what is believed to be their first ever win over Elizabethton in girls’ basketball.
It didn’t come easy down the stretch for Johnson County who had built a comfortable 51-37 advantage with 5:31 remaining in the game. Elizabethton battled back by going on a 17-4 run to get within one with 25 seconds remaining but found them behind the eight ball.
The Cyclones had three fouls to give before Johnson County could be sent to the line in an effort to get the ball back. The Lady Horns ran the clock down to 0.7 seconds before reaching the charity stripe. A stunned Cyclone crowd could only watch as pandemonium broke out among the Johnson County fans and players.
“We had a tough time Monday and Tuesday due to some internal issues, but they’ve worked hard all week to try and correct that,” said veteran coach Leon Tolley in his first year at the helm for Johnson County. “It’s like that old saying, ‘How do you eat an elephant? You do it one bite at a time.’ We’re not going to change this thing overnight, but tonight is huge because we needed a win and we’ve never won down here. Even though we gave up some baskets down the stretch, we still made a few big plays at the end. The girls are extremely proud of themselves and I hope it will carry over. I am very proud of them too.”
Rewind the clock
It’s been a remarkable turnaround from over the past two years. The Longhorns started two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior against the Cyclones. Their first three players off the bench were all sophomores. Each made a significant contribution in the win.
The Lady Horns lost at Elizabethton 74-34 last year and 98-26 two seasons ago. Who would have seen this coming back then?
Tight first half
The game was a tight-fisted affair over the first 16 minutes. A couple of baskets by freshman Emmy Miller and a nice feed from Adrian Hall to Britain Peele that resulted in a three-point play left Johnson County trailing 12-11 after one.
Freshman Sadie Stout kept the youth movement in place by scoring a half dozen points in the second quarter. Her three-ball just before halftime helped whittle what was a seven-point deficit down to 24-22 at intermission.
Johnson County started the third quarter off with a bang that swung the momentum in their favor. Stout’s three-ball gave them a 26-24 lead that got the rally going; then Abby Cornett followed with a pair of deuces that prevented Elizabethton from taking the lead.
Courtney Brooks had a pair of baskets to keep them in front after Elizabethton had cut it back down to one.
Miller closed the quarter with four points that capped off a 9-3 run. Johnson County led 43-36 after three.
More Lady Longhorns step up
Sophomore Taylor Cox hit a pair of big shots to start the fourth quarter. She scored the first five points in the frame including a long trey that put them up by an even dozen at 48-26 with 6:25 remaining.
The freshman combination of Stout to Miller gave them their largest lead at 51-37 with 5:30 remaining.
Taylor Parsons had a clutch basket down the stretch that kept the Lady Horns in front by three at 55-49. Shell’s three-point play and Little’s basket got ‘Betsy within one, but the Longhorns attempt to put the ball in the deep freeze proved successful in the final 25 seconds.
The freshmen duo of Miller and Stout was definitely a deciding factor. Miller provided 15 points and five rebounds. Stout added nine points and six rebounds. Parsons had seven points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Cox contributed five points, three rebounds and a steal.
The play of Courtney Brooks was huge throughout the contest. She finished with 13 points and ran the offense masterfully from her point guard position.
It was the first Three Rivers Conference game for both teams. Johnson County is now 2-3 overall while Elizabethton falls to 2-4.
Kaylen Shell scored a game high 19 points for Elizabethton. Freshman Morgan Headrick added 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Lady Longhorns will be idle after Tuesday’s game with Dobyns-Bennett until Thursday, December 14. They travel to Unaka on that night and on to Unicoi County on Friday.
Johnson County 55, Elizabethton 54
JOHNSON COUNTY (55)
E. Miller 15, C. Brooks 13, Stout 9, Parsons 7, Cox 5, Cornett 4, Peele 3, Hall 0, Winters 0. B. Brooks 0, B. Miller 0.
Shell 19, Headrick 15, Little 7, Winters 6, Roberts 3, Townsend 3, Koroma 2.
Johnson Co. 11 12 20 12 — 55
Elizabethton 12 12 12 19 — 54
3-point goals—JC 3 (Stout 2, C. Brooks) Eliz 6 (Shell 2, Townsend, Winters, Little, Roberts)