Highlanders hunt down NG Huskies

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
It's not wise for a Husky to wonder around in the land of the high country. North Greene found this to be true after being hunted down by Cloudland in a 62-39 basketball final on Saturday night in Roan Mountain.
The 'Landers came out with the second-half defensive pressure to blow the game open and cruise their way to their third conference win on the season.
"Defense was definitely a key tonight, and I think we're really starting to come along and play well together now," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith.
Cloudland enjoyed a 12-5 lead at the end of the first period, getting success with its post play and shots from the perimeter.
Robbie Tolley opened with the first basket of the night inside the paint, while Aaron Stocton also added offensive support down-low.
The 'Landers saw a couple of threes hit their mark in the first period when Craig Cooke converted with three minutes left.
Another three-point goal came at the buzzer after Jacob Hughes made a nice head fake and dribble past the defender draining the long-range jumper.
Cloudland stretched its advantage in the second period to 14 points at the two-minute mark, when Cooke nailed a three from the corner and Cody Jones converted the drive down the lane.
North Greene struggled with its offensive sets, as a three-point shot from Nathan Davis brought the Huskies to 26-14 at halftime.
For the first three quarters of the game, Tolley captured the opening basket of the period.
A defensive press put on by the 'Landers created several steals and easy baskets off the turnovers.
Cloudland scored the first 12 points of the third period, as the Huskies had trouble with the aggressive defense.
"In the second-half our defensive pressure became the difference in the game," said Smith. "We got some easy baskets off our defense and our post players did a good job inside."
A three-point shot at halfcourt by Jones was ruled no good, as the referee said the ball did not leave his hand until time had expired, but Cloudland still had a commanding lead of 38-19 with the fourth quarter remaining.
Cloudland started the final period the same way it did in the third by outscoring North Greene 9-2 in the first three minutes.
The post play took its toll in the last quarter as Stocton finished with the game-high 19 points. Tolley ended his night with 12 points.
"Everybody has been pushing me hard, and I have not been playing to quite my potential," said Stocton. "I've got to give a lot of credit to my teammates for helping me stay motivated."
North Greene would finish with Aaron Spears and Matt Burns scoring 10 points apiece.
The 'Landers will travel next to face Unaka, where they'll battle for the first-place position in the conference on Tuesday.
"We work on defense first with sliding our feet and staying low, and then offense comes second," said Stocton. "Now we're going to get ready for Unaka and try to steal another conference title away from them."
Lady Highlanders 54
North Greene 45
The Lady 'Landers were able to keep just enough distance to where North Greene never became a serious threat.
"They kind of hurt us in the first half by knocking down the free throws and beating the press," said Cloudland girls coach Matt Birchfield. "We did a much better job in the second half and were able to keep around a 10-point lead."
Cloudland got going in the first period, with Crystal Arnold scoring six of 13 points on the night, leading the way to a 12-4 advantage by period's end.
The Lady Huskies scrapped back to pull within three, as some steady shooting from the free-throw line by Lindsey Evans cut the Cloudland advantage to 19-16 by halftime.
"We played well in the first quarter, and then we became a little flat in the second period," said Birchfield. "Jessica Lunsford was able to come up with some big shots down the stretch and Crystal Arnold did a good job of penetrating the middle."
A solid performance from Heather Banner on the offensive end during the third quarter contributed to a Cloudland 34-26 lead heading into the final period.
Banner finished with 10 points on the night, all of which came during the third quarter.
North Greene was able to cut the deficit down to five a couple of times, as it was feeding the ball inside to Chelsea Wright, who had success in drawing the foul.
Wright finished as the game leading scorer with 15 points, while Haley Williams added 11 points.
Cloudland was able to withstand the rally by doing a good job of breaking the press and getting easy baskets on the other end of the floor.
"I just hope our team can continue to keep on moving the ball well and work together," said Arnold.
Jessica Lunsford and April Williams both dumped in six points apiece in the final period, as the 'Landers now look to set their sights on conference rival Unaka.
"We need to keep working on breaking the press, because we'll have a much tougher time getting the ball up the floor against Unaka," said Arnold.