Johnson County trips Cloudland

By Wes Holtsclaw

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- Cloudland entered its fifth game in five games looking nothing like it did the night before. That could be related to the dominating performance from the Johnson County Longhorns.
   Cloudland was down the entire ball game, and down by eight with 1:53 remaining in the game, but some free throw opportunities presented themselves and Mark Byrd and Kevin Jones capitalized on the misses from the Longhorns.
   From there, Caleb Denton sent the 'Landers roaring with a 3-pointer with under 20 seconds remaining to tie the ballgame for the first time all night. A missed free throw from Johnson County gave Cloudland the ball back.
   However, a missed opportunity arose as Kevin Jones bounced a layup off the goal. Then the ball was tossed deep into Longhorn territory to Tommy Short, who sank the game-winning layup as time expired to give Johnson County the 60-58 win at Shoun Gymnasium.
   Said Short: "It feels good, but I don't like close games like that. It kind of scared me. We haven't beat them twice this year, so we owed them one."
   "Well the negatives for us were that they outrebounded us and we missed some free throws," said Longhorn coach Austin Atwood. "We made some bad decisions late, but we played really hard. They beat us twice, and we just hit the buckets,"
   "Chad Reece played very well for us tonight. He's never played before, and tonight he stepped up and did what was needed. He's getting better, and we have to take that into Sullivan East on Thursday night."
   Johnson County jumped the gun on Cloudland early as Reece nailed three treys for the Longhorns, while the 'Landers were cold, battling to a 16-8 lead after the first quarter.
   "We came in and showed that we wanted it," said Chad Reece, who had 18 points for the 'Horns. "We didn't rebound like we should've and we really didn't deserve the win. We just got nervous, and buckled down with some defense."
   Matt Cornett and Short made some big plays in the second quarter, battling from a Cloudland rally behind Kevin and Kyle Jones, as well as Robbie Tolley. Johnson County took a 31-25 lead into the locker room.
   Cornett and Reece stepped it up again in the third, but it would be Cloudland showing its staying power as Caleb Denton and Brandon Odom helped cut into the lead as the 'Horns took a 48-42 lead into the fourth.
   Cornett was the big gun on the night, and proved that he was one of the best players in the area with his dominating 21-point performance before fouling out late in the fourth.
   Cloudland battled back with free throws, and was 9-of-10 in the final period, where Johnson County ended with the 60-58 decision.
   Highlander coach Ned Smith was proud of his team despite the heartbreaking loss.
   Said Smith: "We were down about eight points there at the end, but we fought our way back and tied it up. We got the look that we wanted, it just didn't go down. It was a heck of a game, good experience for us going into the tournaments.
   "I wish we could've won, but Austin's a good coach and Johnson County's got a heck of a ball team. Cornett, Short, Chad -- they have a good team. It's a tough place to win on the road, but it's good experience for us. I'm very proud of the team for their work these past few days."
   Kevin Jones was the only Cloudland player with double digits with his 17.
   Cloudland (Girls) 66
   Johnson County 44
   The Cloudland Lady Highlanders came out as a team on a mission Tuesday night, and escaped Shoun Gymnasium with a big victory despite a second-quarter charge from the Johnson County Lady Longhorns.
   Cloudland jumped out early behind Taukia Hughes and Amy Storie, and that is how it would win this night, as Storie blasted 20 points and Hughes launched 18 for the Cloudland ladies.
   "We was a little bit tired in the first half," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "They shot the ball well. Number 14 (Andrea McQueen) really lined us up, and we were really relaxed on defense.
   "But we came out in the second half, got a few steals, got into a transition game. It was good for us, we blew them out and got to a big lead, and that's what we asked -- to make a run for it."
   Cloudland took an 18-7 lead into the second quarter, shutting down Johnson County, but McQueen became a 'Human highlight reel' by netting 12 of her game-high 22 points as Johnson County took a small lead over the 'Landers for most of the second quarter.
   However, Cloudland came back behind Storie and Tara Hanson, grabbing a 33-26 advantage going into the locker room.
   "We played a good first half offensively and defensively," said Lady 'Horn coach Eric Crabtree. "We just couldn't hit our shots in the second and we let them get to us."
   Nikki Webb added some punch early in the second half for Cloudland, which dominated the entire half on the boards and from the field.
   "We really played together as a team tonight," said Storie. "We got a lot of inside and outside shots."