Johnson County stages upset of Lady 'Landers

By Michelle Pope

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- The Lady Longhorns reclaimed their territory Thursday night at Johnson County High by taking an early lead against Cloudland, clinging to it, and finishing with a 35-32 win.
   The final quarter was a battle to the end, as each team struggled to stay a shot ahead, but Ashley Howard broke the tie trend by sinking an inside shot with 28 seconds to go, and an intentional foul called on the Lady 'Landers put April McCloud behind the stripe with seven seconds left to dash Cloudland's hopes for an easy two.
   "That was a huge win for these girls," said Johnson County girls coach Eric Crabtree. "Cloudland is a top-notch program. I will take nothing from Cloudland. They are always at the top."
   Elena Owens, with a layup and jumper from the top of the key, and McCloud with a three-point basket helped boost Johnson County to the 10-6 lead by the end of the first quarter. April Williams, Crystal Arnold, and Rebecca Clawson each scored a basket for Cloudland to give them six.
   "I thought our defense was superb," said Crabtree. "The girls were awesome. I didn't do anything. These girls hit the shots, they played the game, they played what we wanted to play. The last two or three games, they've kind of evolved into what we want to do."
   After the slow start, the Lady Highlanders came out of the huddle with determination, and put down nine points, while holding Johnson County to five to tie the game at 15 by the halftime buzzer. Jessica Davis hit a trey, while Heather Banner, Jessica Lunsford, and Arnold each contributed a field goal.
   In the third quarter, the Lady Longhorns made a 7-2 run on Cloudland, driven by a layup and free throw from Billie Hurd. Owens added a long field goal, and Paige Morefield scored from inside the paint after taking a halfcourt pass from McCloud.
   However, the Lady 'Landers played a seven-point quarter to stay in the game with Johnson County. The Lady Longhorns entered the fourth in the 26-22 lead.
   "I thought we controlled the clock," said Crabtree. "We made five or ten passes every possession. It's hard to put into words -- I'm proud of them. Even the girls who you may not have seen a stat sheet on, they did what they were supposed to do. They made the rebound when we needed to, they made a pass when they needed to, they hit the shot when they needed to."
   In the final quarter, neither team could gain more than a two-point lead. Laura Peters scored four points for Johnson County, while Banner went six for six on foul shots for Cloudland. However, the Lady Longhorns kept the lead the final half minute, and won the game.
   Banner led Cloudland with 10 points, while Arnold added six. For Johnson County, Hurd dropped nine points in the bucket, and McCloud and Owens contributed seven and six, respectively.
   We didn't come ready to play, and they did," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "They came out and did things right, and we didn't do anything to beat them. Heather Banner played pretty decent. She made some big shots and big free throws to kind of keep us around.
   "We hope we can play a little better. We're going to go back and regroup. We're not going to change a whole lot in what we do. We're going to try to get a little more movement in our offense, try to score some transition points, and try to get the game up in tempo a little more."
   "It was huge," said Crabtree. "There's a few that played exceptional, but they all played great. From the top to the bottom, everybody did their job tonight. We never broke. I told them at halftime, 'Cloudland's going to come after you. If you will stand up to them, and withstand the barrage that they're going to throw at you, you'll win.' And they did."