Rangers solve 'Landers in OT

By Wes Holtsclaw

STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   Overtime says so much. Just ask the Unaka Rangers after their 59-54 victory over the Cloudland Highlanders Tuesday night at Snavely Gym.
   The win clinched the Rangers a share of their sixth straight conference crown, but they had to fight for it after trailing by 10 into the second half.
   "We regrouped in the second half and did what we were trying to do," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor. "We adjusted our offense more at halftime and once it got in overtime, it was a new game. Both teams were tired and you could tell it. We executed and put some in the hole."
   Down four with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Cloudland's Robbie Tolley took a lead over the Unaka Rangers. A one of two from the Rangers' Rusty Chambers at the charity stripe put the ball in Cloudland's hand with a minute to go.
   The Highlanders held the ball and ran the clock down to the final seconds. With ten to go, Mark Byrd took the ball inside and missed an under the goal lay-in, he got the board and put it up again with a questionable touch and miss.
   The ball fell into Tolley, who heaved it right at the buzzer and the basket went in. Cloudland won at Unaka for the first time in a decade... well, so they thought.
   The officials called the bucket off and took it into overtime, where Chambers made his point for the conference MVP by rallying the Rangers to a solid lead.
   Some missed shots and turnovers from Cloudland and crucial buckets from Cody Collins and Chris Arnold put Unaka up by nine during the extra period.
   Gouge rallied Cloudland back with big treys, but some Chambers free throws were too much. Rusty finished the game with a game high 29-points and was the key to the Ranger victory.
   "We knew we weren't going to quit," Chambers said. "We had to play defense and press. We tried to cause some turnovers and picked them apart."
   Cloudland opened the contest on an 11-2 run behind two treys from Josh Johnson and bucket from Aaron Stocton. Cody Collins and Chambers kept the game in check trailing 18-7 after one.
   Cole Gouge had three big outside buckets in the second to push Cloudland up by 15. But a few big turnovers gave Daniel McInturff and Chambers a chance to slash it to seven.
   A Gouge three put the 'Landers up 10 at the end of the half.
   "They came out and shot it well," said Ensor. "That was seniors and you could tell. Ned had them ready to play. Our youth showed early and I didn't know if we were ready."
   Derek Cline opened up the third quarter with two big threes as Unaka closed it to six. The Rangers had Cloudland rattled after some big buckets from Chambers and Jones to take a four-point lead.
   Tolley struck back with a tying bucket for Cloudland, but Chambers led Unaka to a 41-40 lead into the final quarter. Before the final frame, Unaka and Cloudland reversed their early game. Unaka's shooting percentage rose 16 percent while Cloudland's fell 19.
   "I thought we had a good first half inside and out," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "In the second half, we had bad shots and didn't go inside enough. We wanted the last-second shot and got it, but they said the clock was out."
   "We had our opportunities, but the shots didn't go down," he said. "I probably should have subbed more and kept the kids rested, that was my fault."
   Cloudland was led by Gouge's 17 points, while Tolley and Stocton had 14 and 10, respectively.
   "We just kind of went crazy under pressure," said Gouge. "We bounced back, but things didn't go our way. We have to put this behind us and get prepared for UH."
   Cloudland can still earn a share of the conference title with a win over University High on Thursday. However, the finish of conference play was sweet for Unaka.
   "It's big," said Chambers. "The tradition is big here and we wanted to keep it going like last year."
   "I would've never dreamed it after what we lost last year," said Ensor. "Our schedule was tough and at any time we could have rolled over. We kept adjusting over and over and they took a hold to it."
   "Our window of improvement has been huge," he said. "This is a working program and we're not close to where we could be. I hope we learned after we beat UH and lost at Cloudland."
   The Rangers host Hampton on Thursday, while Cloudland visits University High. Game time for both contests is 7:30 p.m.