Irish squeak by Cloudland

By Wes Holtsclaw

   When the state's fourth-ranked Division II-A team came to Roan Mountain last night, the locals knew that it would be a game.
   Coming back from a seven point deficit with under two minutes to go, the Cloudland Highlanders bounced back to tie the Knox Catholic Fighting Irish with :12 to go in a tight ballgame.
   However, a foul on Irish hotshot Michael Fecher with 7 seconds left put the Irish to the line for the game. He would nail them both, and with a buzzered missed three point attempt from Kyle Jones, Knox Catholic would pull it out with the 70-68 win over Cloudland.
   "Cloudland's got a good club," said Catholic coach Mike Hutchins. "We have played a lot of tough teams this year, they did well and they are one of the toughest."
   "We knew after being down at the half that we needed to speed the game up, it took us till the end of the second quarter to start feeling the flow."
   It was an equally close start, as a Mark Byrd 'downtowner' along with Caleb Denton's big 10 points in the first quarter rivaled Charlie Davis, Drew Franklin, and Fecher, and Catholic's seven first period steals to take the 19-16 advantage over the Irish.
   The second quarter was a hard fought battle, as Garrett Smith stepped up with the other three big guns to help Catholic battle out into a seven-point lead. But Cloudland roared back behind Kevin Jones, who led the game with 20, and Mark Byrd's high flying layup show to go into the locker room with a 39-36 lead.
   It would be a long way back, as Smith and Cardell Duffield busted out for the Irish, although Cloudland stayed close behind Kyle Jones as Catholic took a 52-50 lead into the final mark.
   Catholic roared from there, as Franklin and Davis hit some key shots early to take a sizable lead for Catholic. Kevin Jones upped his stock nailing some keys with Rick Whitehead's clutch free throws to send Cloudland into the grand finale, which the Irish prevailed.
   "We played our butts off," said 'Lander coach Ned Smith. "We bounced back from last night and played a heck of a team. We were down with under two to go and just missed some."
   It was Cloudland's first home loss of the season. Leading Catholic were the main four (Franklin, Davis, Fecher, and Smith) all with double digits. Byrd, Denton, and Kyle Jones added doubles for the 'Landers.
   Cloudland plays a tough doubleheader on Monday with Clinch at home, and David Crockett away. Gametime's are 1:30 and 7 p.m. respectively.
   Lady Highlanders 55
   Lady Irish 48
   The girls game was a nailbiter as well, as Cloudland pulled away from a one-point third period advantage to shut down the Catholic Lady Irish to a 55-48 win.
   "I thought we played well," said Lady Highlander coach Matt Birchfield. "Late in the game we got control and settled down. And made a couple of shots from the bench, that's something we've gotta have against good teams like this."
   Catholic made it tooth and nail the whole game, keeping Cloudland within a six-point advantage after a tight first half.
   Katie Barber, who led the game with 23 points, and Katie Depresio sent Cloudland rolling with their high profile style of play. Gaining rebound after rebound on the Cloudland ladies.
   But Cloudland would keep its cool, behind Taukia Hughes and Stachia Johnson, going into the fourth quarter.
   'This time around' the Hanson became a factor, as Tara nailed 14 of her team-high 20 with a 10-of-12 fourth quarter charity stripe performance to guide Cloudland to the big win.