Lady 'Landers dodge bullet; Cloudland boys dominate

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Cloudland's Senior Night opened with a bang.
   The Hampton Lady Bulldogs arrived ready to crash Cloudland's party at Sonny Smith Gymnasium Monday night and almost delivered the big upset.
   However, the Lady Highlanders rallied back from a six-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to escape holding a narrow 54-49 victory.
   "We knew Hampton wasn't going to lay down for us," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "You can't take anything away from them, they are a tough team. We kind of pulled it out there at the end. Stachia (Johnson) had two big threes and Amy made some clutch buckets there to help us pull away.
   "They hurt us on defense. We gave them a lot of shots, but we stepped up at the end and played real well. I'm happy for our five seniors, they played their hearts out against a big rival."
   Cloudland opened the first quarter with some big treys from Tara Hanson and Stachia Johnson. Amy Storie broke loose with four buckets to open the period, but the Lady 'Dogs wouldn't back down.
   Joy Gardner and Lacy Oliver made clutch buckets to hold the Lady 'Landers at a 16-9 lead.
   Gardner and Lauren Pittman rallied Hampton back in the second quarter, chasing Cloudland's lead to one point at the end of the first half.
   Hampton bounced back in the second half and took its first lead of the night behind Heather Chambers and Gardner, going up by six. But a big quarter from Nicki Webb helped Cloudland close within one of Hampton.
   The lead swapped around several times in the fourth quarter, but it was Chambers and Pittman who struck the hardest for the Lady Bulldogs in the period.
   Hampton went up by six before Johnson nailed two straight treys for Cloudland. Cloudland got the upper hand with key free throws from Hanson and Storie at the end, halting the valliant effort from the Lady Bulldogs.
   Despite the close outcome, it was a sweet and emotional end for the seniors off of Cloudland's squad in their last home contest.
   "We were already choked up before we ran out," said Tara Hanson. "But I think it helped us come back knowing that it was our last home game and there was no way we were going to lose."
   Said Stachia Johnson: "We knew we had to make it memorable and go out winners. We just fought back and had to do whatever it took to win."
   Cloudland's Storie led all scores with 20, while Garnder tallied 19 for the Lady Bulldogs.
   Chambers (13 points) and Pittman (11 points) wound out scoring for Hampton, while Hanson and Johnson netted 15 a piece for Cloudland.
   Cloudland 69
   Hampton 43
   The final event of the evening began with the makings of a solid contest.
   However, the Hampton Bulldogs shot 11 percent throughout the remainder of the game while the Cloudland Highlanders were as good as gold in a 69-43 victory at Smith Gymnasium.
   "I've never had a team shoot good up here," said Hampton coach Bud Hazelwood. "We got some good looks and we missed a lot of our free throws. The bottom line is Cloudland came to play and Hampton didn't."
   "The kids came out and played hard," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "We went inside and got some good open looks and knocked them down. Aaron (Stocton) and Robbie (Tolley) helped us balance out the scoring and Craig (Cooke) did a good job on the boards."
   Cloudland opened the contest behind big treys from seniors Josh Johnson and Cole Gouge. But Hampton's Greg Osborne and Jacob Moss made big buckets to pull the Bulldogs within three after the period.
   The 'Landers turned it up in the second quarter behind field goals from Robbie Tolley and Aaron Stocton, and getting good defense from Craig Cooke and Mark Byrd en route to a 10-point lead.
   The second half was all Cloudland. The blue and gold opened on a big run of buckets from Tolley and Cooke to take a 20 point lead lead over the 'Dogs.
   Jacob Culler hit a big bucket for Hampton, but they simply couldnt get their shots to fall as Cloudland took a 52-30 lead.
   Cloudland led by as much as 28 late in the fourth quarter, but the 'Dogs wouldn't go down as they received key baskets from Osborne, Travis Smith and Daniel Smith at the end.
   "Bud does an outstanding job with Hampton," said Smith. "They are young and they've had some injuries and they are really coming along. They will be a real good team."
   Tolley led all scores with 20 for Cloudland, while Stocton downed 16 points. Osborne led Hampton with 11.
   Cloudland seniors Johnson (11 points) and Gouge (9 points) went out with a bang in their last home game. They both hope they continue their hard work of preparation for the district tournament.
   "It was a good win," Johnson said. "We're trying to get some momentum going into the tournaments. I hope we can go to Daniel Boone tomorrow night and make a good showing. It was emotional out there tonight."
   Said Gouge: "It was a great way to go out here at home. It felt real good to play in front of a big crowd. I hope we can keep getting ready for the tournament.
   "You can't ask for nothing better than to go out on senior night with a good win over a tough Hampton team."
   "Josh and Cole have been great kids to coach," Smith said. "They both have a great work ethic and I'm real proud of them."