Lady Rangers, 'Landers forge title showdown

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   HARROGATE -- What first seemed unthinkable has become sweet reality for the Unaka girls basketball team.
   Earning their first substate appearance in 15 years, the Lady Rangers (7-19) sent shockwaves across District 2 with their big win Wednesday night over top-seeded Hancock County, scoring a 53-41 upset in the Region 1-AA semifinals at Tex Turner Arena.
   "We knew Hancock was going to shoot the lights out," said Unaka coach Kenneth Chambers. "We watched them two or three times and we weren't sure how to match up with them. But we felt like we had a better advantage if we made them try to stop us.
   "We figured if we could keep them in check and control the boards we would have a good ballgame, and that's what we did. We made a lot of foul shots down the stretch and that's what won us the game."
   Unaka will take on Carter County rival Cloudland (23-6), 61-46 winners over North Greene, at 6:30 p.m.
   It was a close game the entire contest, but Unaka (7-19) pulled down the stretch behind 13-point performances from Amanda Henderson and Julie Roberson, with Heather Taylor's 10.
   Said Unaka's Amanda Henderson: "The whole Unaka team is excited about making the substate round regardless of tomorrow night's outcome. I'm excited. We haven't been this far since the eighties. And to have no seniors, we are doing awesome."
   Trailing 12-10 at the end of the first stanza, the Lady Rangers were able to even the score at halftime, 19-19.
   The third quarter gave Unaka the separation it needed as the Lady Rangers outscored the Indians 12-5.
   Mary Justice and Kim Seal led Hancock with 13 and 10, respectively.
   Cloudland 61
   North Greene 46
   The Cloudland Lady Highlanders earned the berth to play in the regional championship with a strong finish against North Greene in the opening matchup of the evening.
   "We started out real good and got a jump on them," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "North Greene has improved. They shot they ball well, and gave us some problems early, but we finished with a good job.
   "We're real happy with this win, we hope to get that regional title. It would be the first in school history on the girls' side, and we are in substate. So we are very pleased."
   Cloudland took control early on -- outscoring the Lady Huskies 15-6 in the first quarter -- only to watch North Greene refused to quit, battling back to within one point (38-37) by the end of the third period.
   The final period, though, completely belonged to the Lady 'Landers. Cloudland stepped to the fore and put away the pesky Huskies.
   Tara Hanson led the game with a big 19 points, while fellow 'Landers Taukia Hughes and Holly Blair contributed 12 and 10 for Cloudland.
   North Greene was led with 15 points from Patricia Penley's 15 and Amy Conkins' 10.