'Landers bounce  back, top Unicoi

By WES HOLTSCLAW

STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   ERWIN--The Cloudland Highlanders responded after a lackluster performance against the University High Junior Bucs with a 46-42 victory over the Unicoi County Blue Devils on Friday night.
   "I'm proud of the kids," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "We played hard and bounced back from last night. We played good defense and distributed the ball when we needed it. It was a good inside and out game for us."
   Cloudland opened the contest on a run behind Robbie Tolley. Cole Gouge got a big trey early to take a five point lead. Chris Brown and Jonathan Grindstaff came up with big buckets for the Devils, but Cloudland led 11-9 after one.
   Unicoi made some big shots in the second quarter. Ryan Corn took their first lead with a trey. Grindstaff and Johnson swapped buckets between the two groups, but Unicoi pulled away with just enough for the 19-18 lead.
   Gouge opened the third quarter with two buckets for the 'Landers, while Brown nailed one for Unicoi. The Highlanders got things rolling behind treys from Johnson and Mark Byrd to take a 34-27 lead after.
   Cloudland held the Devils scoreless through the first part of the fourth quarter with buckets from Tolley and Byrd extending their lead to 13. Josh Hensley and Derek Hess rallied Unicoi County back within three before they had to foul.
   Johnson and Byrd connect from the free throw line before Hess got a bucket slicing it to two. Gouge is fouled with two shots and downs them both.
   Gouge gets fouled again after another round of solid defense from the 'Landers, but only connects on one. The Devils got another big boost late when Hensley got a bucket with nine seconds to go, but he missed a crucial free throw putting the ball back in Cloudland's hands.
   Johnson connected from the line and gave Cloudland the 46-42 victory.
   Tolley led all scores with his 12, while Johnson and Gouge had 11 apiece for Cloudland. Grindstaff was the only Devil to reach double digits with his 11.
   Said Tolley: "We played a lot better than we did last night."
   "It was a big win," said Gouge. "They are a good 2-A school and we've got to get focused after our losses and get ready for the tournaments."
   "It was good to get a win," said Johnson. "We needed to get back on track. It's hard to play three times in a row against good teams and pull them all out."
   "John (English) does a super job with his group," said Smith. "They have a good post and young players who shoot it real well."
   Cloudland closes out their home schedule on Monday with senior night against Hampton. It will be a big game for the 'Landers.
   Said Smith: "Anytime you play at home, you've got to win those games. We've just got to come out and be ready to play."
   "Hampton's got a good team," Gouge said. "It's going to be a tough game and we have to play hard. We would like to win since it is our senior night, but we will see what happens. We've got to keep pushing and improving."