Winning one for the Gipper, the Warriors eliminated North from the District 1-AA basketball tournament with a 71-57 quarterfinal victory.
Happy Valley was without Charlie Bayless, the state’s winningest boys prep coach, but played out of sight.
Bayless, suffering complications from a rib injury, stayed home and assistant Mark Jones filled in as acting coach.
Cox had looked forward to having his original starting lineup intact. First, freshman standout Chase Arnold sat out several games with a broken hand. Then it was super sophomore William White’s turn to battle back from an injury.
They were together again and Cox figured the duo would blend with Mark Salyers, Dylan Price and Chris Gilliam to make some noise in the postseason.
Happy Valley had other ideas. The Warriors broke open a close game by outscoring North 14-4 in the last 5:20 of the third quarter. Christian Cammu topped it off with a 25-footer at the buzzer, giving Happy Valley a 48-38 lead.
“We didn’t extend our 2-3 zone on Cammu because he’s a penetrator,’’ Cox said. “We played the end of that quarter exceptionally well but he burned us with that one. I guess it was one of those shots that were meant to be.’’
North had the right zip code with its 3-point shooting until late in the game. The Raiders sank 11 attempts from behind the arc. This accounted for a majority of their points.
Salyers led North with 19 points, followed by White with 17 and Arnold with 11.
Happy Valley counterbalanced North’s triangular attack with five players scoring in double figures, and got 14 points from the others — exactly the margin of victory.
North, in a vital stage of its rebuilding process, wound up with an 8-17 record.
“We don’t have any depth but things are going in the right direction,’’ Cox said. “We had only six players out there tonight. I’d put our first five up against anybody’s next year. Our biggest thing is, we’ve got to develop some kids. We have a great ninth-grade group but I don’t think they’re quite ready for the varsity. It seems like we’re always two years away from having a good program.’’
The Warriors will play No. 2 seed Unicoi County at 5:30 and No. 1 seed Sullivan East will meet Johnson County at 8:30 in tonight’s semifinals.
Johnson County staged a miracle rally to defeat Elizabethton 59-55 in Friday’s first game.
Jason Steele, a 6-foot-6 junior center, blazed in 14 points in a 4 1/2-minute span to spark a rally that erased a 15-point deficit in the late going. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.
The Longhorns, who had two key players out with injuries, put together 11-0 and 10-0 runs after halftime. They scored 30 points in the final quarter.
Sammy Hampton sealed the win by hitting three free throws in the last 12.4 seconds.