Lady 'Landers fend off Rangers

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Cloudland Lady Highlanders came to Steve Lacy Fieldhouse ready to win the District 1-A tournament girls championship, but on the other end of the spectrum, Unaka showed up ready to pull an upset.
   However, it would be Cloudland's night. As the Lady 'Landers fought a hard fourth quarter charge from the Unaka girls to take the 52-47 win, sealing their second straight district championship.
   "Unaka came out hard, played us hard and did what they had to do," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "But I feel like our girls stepped up and responded to the challenge. They shot the ball well from the line, and did what was needed to be done.
   "I'm really proud of them for not losing their cool, and they deserve the district championship. They played hard, and that's what you want, a war in the championship game. And it was between us and Unaka, we knew that and they knew that, that's all you can ask."
   The game exploded from the beginning, as Kelly Taylor and Julie Roberson pounded Unaka to a quick lead over Cloudland. But the 'Landers roared right back behind Taukia Hughes and their mighty junior tandem of Tara Hanson, Amy Storie, Stachia Johnson and Holly Blair.
   Renee Ensor and Coty Townsend blasted Unaka within one point of the 'Landers, as Cloudland took a 14-13 lead into the second quarter.
   It would be Roberson and Taylor again fighting the junior combo of Cloudland, but the 'Landers took a little more bite this time, as they ended the frame with the 25-21 lead.
   The second half was a shootout, as Taukia Hughes played an MVP-caliber quarter against Heather Taylor and Roberson, helping Cloudland extend its lead to 42-37 going into the last eight minutes.
   Danielle Ensor and Heather Taylor tried to give Unaka an extra fist in the fight, but Storie, Hanson and Hughes would do just enough for the Cloudland win, as the Lady 'Landers took the district with the 52-47 win.
   "I'm really excited," said Amy Storie, who led the game with 19 points. "We came in, we knew what we needed to do, and what we had to do, and that's exactly what we did tonight."
   Taukia Hughes was rewarded twice tonight, first as the conference MVP, and second, the district MVP for her strong tournament play.
   "I just thank God for everything," said Hughes. "He's blessed my life, blessed my family. And I can't say anything else but 'thanks' to him."
   Despite losing, the Unaka girls enter into the regional tournament with good playing to their advantage.
   Said Unaka coach Ken Chambers: "My girls came out, they wanted it. I told them if they could play hard with intensity that they could play with Cloudland, because I feel like they are the best single-A team around here.
   "We stepped up and played hard. The foul shots and missing the layups at the end of the game hurt us real bad. You know, as long as they play hard and do the best that they can do, that's all you need."
   Hughes and Hanson added 13 and 10 respectively for Cloudland, while Kelly Taylor led Unaka with 14 points. Going along with Roberson's 12 and Heather Taylor's 10.
   Both teams enter the regional tournament at LMU with a slight advantage over the district two teams. Cloudland opens up Monday night, while Unaka will play Tuesday night in Harrogate.