Highlanders dispatch Bucs

By Wes Holtsclaw


   Two comebacks and a solid inside game was the key.
   The Cloudland Highlanders fought through two big leads and got on a roll behind Robbie Tolley and Aaron Stocton inside to take a big 61-51 victory over the University High Junior Bucs at Smith Gymnasium last night.
   "We came out with hard defense," said Cloudland head coach Ned Smith. "The shots weren't going down for us, but we kept pushing it. We got it going in the second half and made a few shots."
   Cloudland shot a weak 28 percent in the first half, but rallied back with defense in the game, taking out University High's Brandon Bradley.
   Bradley only scored two of his eight points in the second half of the contest, while his counterparts Tolley and Stocton had 16 and 10, respectively.
   "Bradley's tough inside," Smith said. "But our posts did a good job on him. He's a good leaper and a very athletic player.
   "They have a good team all around. Coach Gordon does a good job with them. All of our kids just stepped up and the free throws we made at the end were big."
   Matt Tillman opened a big rally for the Junior Bucs with three straight buckets in the second half.
   However, Cloudland climbed back after some big free throws from Byrd and Stocton to come within one.
   Bradley and Danny Quick pushed UH to a five-point advantage in the fourth quarter, but a big three-point play from Stocton and a bucket from Tolley tied it up at 41.
   Cole Gouge stepped to the line and pocketed his first four points from the free throw line when Cloudland needed them most to take their first lead.
   Although the 'Landers got in trouble when Mark Byrd fouled out late, Cloudland made their free throws in a valiant win.
   "I couldn't be happier with the win," said Aaron Stocton. "We practiced hard and worked to try to count (Bradley) out of being a factor in the game. We shut them down the best we could and worked hard as a team."
   The Junior Bucs led by as much as nine in the first half, but did a good job getting Cloudland into foul trouble. Tillman and Gary Williams led University High to a sound advantage.
   However, sharp defense from Mark Byrd and Craig Cooke gave Josh Johnson some open shots to pull their squad back within two at the break.
   The Junior Bucs missed a lot of crucial shots late, including nine in a row, despite having the upper hand from behind the arch. They shot 18 of 51 while Cloudland bounced back from a poor first half at 19 of 46.
   But their big numbers came from the free throw line going 23 of 30, elevating them with charity points.
   Matt Tillman led University High with 14 points, while Williams had 10. Josh Johnson also had 10 points for the Highlanders.
   Cloudland faces the top team from District 2-2A in South Greene (9-4) at home this Thursday. The Rebels are 6-0 in district play.
   Lady Highlanders 76
   Lady Junior Bucs 46
   Things didn't fall into place for the fourth ranked Cloudland Lady Highlanders early.
   The University High Lady Bucs battled the Lady 'Landers throughout the first half, despite Cloudland's tough defense. Shots weren't falling for Cloudland and it looked like they were going to be in for a tough night.
   However, Cloudland roared back in the second half behind Amy Storie and Tara Hanson to take a big 76-46 win.
   "We didn't shoot real well and came out flat," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "But we settled down and shot it better. Amy (Storie) and April (Williams) made some big baskets for us inside and had doubles in rebounds.
   "We picked up our defense with some steals on fast breaks. When you can get two kids with doubles on the boards, you know you've done a good job.
   April Williams was a big key in Cloudland's first half with all of her 13 points. Duff Rearden and Jo Thomas were tough for the Lady Bucs, but fatigue got to them.
   Nikki Webb and Jessica Lunsford made some strong plays for the Lady Highlanders in the second half, keying to a lot of valuable minutes for the Cloudland bench despite a hard push from the Lady Bucs' Kati Crowe and Mikki Mackley.
   Hanson had a solid second half and led Cloudland in scoring with her 20 points, while Storie netted 16. Rearden finished with 13 for UH, while Kristy Bennett tallied nine.
   The team, one of only two in 1-A with one loss (Celina), was very excited to crack the state's top five for the first time this season.
   "It's big and it's good for the girls because they've earned it," Birchfield said. "It puts you up there with the best in the state, and you just hope you can play with them when the time comes. We've still got to get better every game to beat the good teams, and we still have some good ones left."
   "It's great and really exciting for us," said Hanson. "I hope we can live up to it."
   Said Stachia Johnson: "I think we deserve it, we've worked hard and beat all of the teams we were supposed to this year."
   Cloudland travels to Cosby this Saturday before a big conference road match with Unaka on Tuesday.