Unfortunately for the Trojans, the Yellow Jackets also saved their best for last, and Middlesboro's best was a little better than Cawood's.
The Jackets hit seven of nine shots in the fourth quarter, including all four 3-point attempts, to hold off Cawood's comeback attempt and advance to a semifinal matchup against Bell County with a 64-60 victory.
"They hit some big shots. We were playing good defense," said Cawood coach Anthony Nolan. "We made a run, but we just could not get over the hump. We'd miss an easy shot or rush a quick shot. I think if we ever got over the hump it would have been a different ballgame."
Middlesboro (10-17) got several big performances, led by junior guard Daniel Griffin with five 3-pointers in a 23-point effort. Sophomore guard Antwan Brown provided a spark off the bench with 14 points. Nick Smith, also a sophomore, added 13 points, and senior point guard Tyler Hatmaker contributed 10.
Junior guard Adam Rhymer poured in 26 points to lead Cawood (10-19). Sophomore center Josh Caldwell added 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Middlesboro focused its 2-3 zone on controlling Caldwell, who hurt the smaller Jackets in their two regular season meetings.
"Josh Caldwell is going to be one of the premier players," Jones said. "He gives us fits now, and you give him another year, he'll probably be drop-stepping and dunking.
"I wanted Josh Treece to body him up and try to limit his touches. We tried to put a guy in front of him and a guy behind him."
Cawood led 11-9 after one quarter before going ice cold in the second, missing 11 of 14 shots, as Middlesboro built a 28-21 lead by halftime.
"Their defense was the same. It was just that our shot selection was poor, then we missed several easy shots around the basket," Nolan said.
"I think the second quarter was the difference in the game," said Jones. "We did real well in the second quarter and were able to hang on."
The Jackets led by seven in the third quarter when Cawood forward B.J. Nolan completed a three-point play followed by baskets from Rhymer and Mikey Hensley to help the Trojans tie the game at 32-32. Two baskets by Griffin, including a 3-pointer, pushed Middlesboro out to a 38-37 lead heading into the fourth period.
Both offenses heated up in the final quarter with the teams trading baskets for much of the period. Middlesboro stretched its lead back to six before the Trojans reeled off seven straight on a basket by Rhymer, a 3-pointer by Kyle Hatfield and basket by Nolan to put them on top 49-48 with 4:32 left.
Cawood enjoyed the lead for only 12 seconds as Griffin's 3-pointer put the Jackets ahead to stay.
"One of Cawood's guys came down and scored, and they went ahead of us," Jones said. "We accepted that pretty well, and the kids came down and executed.
Middlesboro led by six when Rhymer ignited a comeback as he found Farmer for a layup after a steal, then scored himself after another turnover to cut the lead to 59-58 with 1:20 left.
"Rhymer stepped up and hit some shots for them," Jones said. "When we scouted them earlier, (Ryan) Farmer hit most of them."
The Jackets worked the clock down to 33 seconds, despite pressure from the Trojans, before Brown hit the biggest shot of the game, a jumper from 15 feet that pushed the lead to three.
"He's been doing that," Jones said. "Not only am I bringing a quality player off the bench, but I'm bringing a good ball-handler who is the quickest kid in the region, I think. He's a sophomore and is only getting better."
Caldwell's putback with nine seconds remaining cut the Middlesboro lead to two, but Smith hit two free throws with six seconds remaining to ice the victory.
The loss ended Cawood's first losing season since 1996 and the first in Nolan's 11-year tenure. Nolan ended the season with 199 wins as Cawood's coach.
"We were inconsistent. We had great kids, but we lacked a little leadership at times," he said.
"We've got a really good group coming back, and I'm really excited about it. I think that will put us back in the upper echelon where we're used to being. I'm really excited about the future, and I told them I was as passionate as I ever was, and I think we'll improve a lot next year."
Tyler Hatmaker 2-7 4-4 10, Daniel Griffin 9-16 0-0 23, Blain Green 0-3 1-2 1, Nick Smith 4-11 4-6 13, Josh Treece 1-4 1-5 3, Antwan Brown 6-12 1-3 14, Michael Sulfridge 0-0 0-0 0, Eddie Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-53 11-20 64.
Ryan Farmer 2-10 0-1 4, Adam Rhymer 11-24 3-3 26, Kyle Hatfield 2-6 0-0 5, B.J. Nolan 3-7 1-1 7, Josh Caldwell 5-7 5-7 15, Mikey Hensley 1-5 1-2 3, Brad Howard 0-2 0-0 0, Dillion Cain 0-1 0-0 0, T.J. Green 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-60 10-14 60.
Middlesboro 9 19 10 26 -64
Cawood 11 10 16 23 -60
3-point goals: Middlesboro 9-23 (Griffin 5-11, Hatmaker 2-5, Smith 1-3, Brown 1-3, Green 0-1), Cawood 2-16 (Hatfield 1-3, Rhymer 1-5, Hensley 0-1, Cain 0-1, Farmer 0-6). Rebounds: Middlesboro 28 (Hatmaker 7), Cawood 36 (Caldwell 13). Turnovers: Middlesboro 8, Cawood 12. Assists: Middlesboro 8 (Brown 5), Cawood 9 (Hatfield 3). Fouled out: None.