By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
ELIZABETHTON—Happy Valley tried to slow their semifinal game with Johnson County down to a waltz, but the Longhorns turned it into a jitterbug and danced their way into the District 1-AA championship game on Tuesday.
The Horns took care of business with a convincing 57-37 win over the Warriors who had upset Sullivan East in the first round.
The Longhorns (22-9) will now face Unicoi County (19-11) who defeated Elizabethton in overtime 74-66 after the Cyclones had jumped on top 25-6 in the first quarter.
The Horns never trailed in the game jumping on top 9-2 in the early going on a three-point play by Jordan Edes-King and managed to double the score at 14-7 only to watch Happy Valley get back to within four at 16-12.
A three-ball from the corner by Bud Icenhour highlighted a 6-0 run that put the lead back to double-digits at 22-12.
The Warriors got a pair of late baskets from Brayden Sams and one by Dakota Cochran but still trailed 25-18 at the half.
Johnson County’s head coach Austin Atwood felt like his team would weather the storm after Friday’s close encounter with Sullivan Central.
“Our team is kind of resilient to this type of game,” said Atwood. “They get behind six or eight points, and it doesn’t bother them, and it didn’t matter when Happy Valley made a run. Beating Central in the first round was the hardest win in basketball because it’s do-or-die time. Everyone was tight from the coaches and players all the way down to the manager. We realized what was at stake. I knew we were going to be hard to deal with when we made some shots early. We got a lot of rebounds, and our two post players, Nathan Arnold and Jordan Edes-King did a great job of defending their 6’7 post player Bryce Carter.”
The Warriors got within four to start the third quarter, but Johnson County responded.
Nathan Arnold’s bucket triggered 10-2 run that was highlighted by a long trey from Zack Eller and Blake Atwood’s 17-footer at the buzzer.
The Longhorns led 39-27 heading into the final quarter.
“We played well at first on defense, but we were a little slow on our rotations in the third quarter,” said Blake Atwood. “We were trying to get out on our runs, but we knew they were going to slow it down. Our goals were to host a first-round regional game and then make it to the sub-state. It feels great to get one out of the way. We now have to focus on the regional championship game and who our next opponent will be.”
The Longhorns would extend their lead by going on a 7-2 run to open the final period. Eller’s trifecta made it 46-29 then a three-point play from Edes-King, and Icenhour’s layup pushed it up to 20 points with 1:46 remaining in the game.
“I felt pretty confident shooting the ball off the wing in the fourth quarter,” said Eller who knocked down a pair. “They keep telling me to shoot the ball, so I guess I need to start listening.”
Atwood finished the night with 19 points, three steals and three assists to lead the Longhorns. Edes-King added 17 points and six rebounds.
The 6’2 senior post player explained how he was getting open.
“We were trying to drag the defenders over and get some open looks on the offside,” said Edes-King. “Our guards did a great job of finding me. Coach said he wanted to bring this thing back to Johnson County. We’re trying to do that for him.”
Eller collected 11 points, on three treys and provided four steals. Icenhour was held to six points but contributed a game-high five assists and four steals. Arnold’s blue-collar numbers included three points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists. Gavin Reece picked up the final point.
“Everybody wants a District championship but to reach our goal of making the sub-state we had to win this one to host a first-round regional game,” added Coach Atwood. “We might lose, but it’s tough to play at home in our gym. We want to win the District championship but Tuesday night is like our payday. It’s a big step toward us getting at where we want to be.”
Happy Valley was led by Bryce Carter’s 11 points and seven rebounds. Kevin Whitaker added 10.
Johnson County (22-9) and Unicoi County (20-11) will square off Tuesday at 7:30 pm in the championship game. It will be the third meeting between the two with each winning on the road.
Elizabethton and Happy Valley will play at 6:00 pm for third place.
Unicoi County 74
The Blue Devils got 25 points from Troy Podvin and 13 rebounds in their overtime win over Elizabethton. Trevor Hensley added 20 points to help them overcame a 19-point deficit to reach the title game.
The Cyclones could have put the game away in regulation but missed three times down the stretch at the foul line.
1-AA District Semifinals
Johnson County 57, Happy Valley 37
JOHNSON COUNTY (22-9)
Atwood 19, Edes-King 17, Eller 11, Icenhour 6, N. Arnold 3, Reece 1, T. Arnold 0, Phillips 0, Bower 0, Isaacs 0
Johnson County 14 11 14 18 — 57
HAPPY VALEY (7-22)
Carter 11, Whitaker 10, Sams 6, Surcey 6, Cochran 4, Lunceford 1
Happy Valley 7 9 9 10 — 37
3-point goals—JC 5 (Atwood 2, Eller 2, Icenhour 1) HV 3 (Whitaker 2, Surcey 1)