'Landers, Rangers forge championship matchup

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Cloudland Highlanders were back for revenge.
   After a tough loss 12 days ago at University High, the 'Landers bounced back Byrd Style with a big 60-48 win over the Junior Bucs.
   Trailing by two into the second half, Cloudland's Mark Byrd went on a wild spree scoring 10 of his 12 points in succession during the third quarter to put Cloudland up by eleven over the Bucs.
   It proved to be the turning point of the game.
   "Mark took over for us," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "We were reaching in a little bit and got in foul trouble during the first half. We came back out and played smart defense. The kids picked their shots and took them well."
   "Craig Cooke had a big first half for us," he said. "Aaron Stocton and Zach Cook did a good job on (Brandon) Bradley. Our team play was a big key to the win. Anytime you can get a lot of players involved, it builds up your confidence."
   The win moves Cloudland to a rematch of last year's district championship against the Unaka Rangers, who beat North Greene earlier in the evening.
   Said University High coach Tony Gordon: "We just didn't shoot the ball well and our defense wasn't as sharp. We've not played in twelve days and that may have had something to do with it. Cloudland did a great job and deserved to win."
   Brandon Bradley went on a roll for University High in the first quarter. Cole Gouge and Aaron Stocton got some big buckets to even it up during the period.
   Bradley used a big slam to come back on the 'Landers despite big threes from Josh Johnson and Craig Cooke as Cloudland held onto a three-point lead.
   Cooke made some big buckets during the second quarter for Cloudland en route to a nine-point lead. During an outbreak of fouls against the 'Landers, Bradley made some clutch buckets to set up a Matt Conley bucket at the buzzer to push the Bucs on top.
   Bradley had 16 points in the first half along with University High's 60 percent shooting. Things would change once Cloudland gave them the Byrd.
   The 'Landers opened up with a pair of big buckets from Stocton and Johnson before Byrd went wild. He did some winding layups and hit a big three to seal a 46-34 lead after three.
   "They had the momentum going into the second half," said Byrd. "I wanted to step up and turn it on them."
   The Junior Bucs were outscored 19-5 in that period and eventually went 11:05 without making a field goal. The defense was a blessing for Cloudland, which was plagued with foul trouble the whole game.
   Despite efforts from Bucs Matt Tillman and Danny Quick, a technical and some solid free throw shooting from Cloudland put it away in the fourth quarter.
   Bradley led UH with 20, while four 'Landers reached double digits. Josh Johnson (15 points), Cole Gouge (13 points), Byrd (12 points) and Cooke (10 points) were big reasons for Cloudland's success.
   "I just think we came together and played as a team tonight," said Cooke. "Robbie (Tolley) got in foul trouble, but Mark pushed the ball down the floor for us and we came together and stopped Bradley."
   Added Byrd: "The team really stepped up and played well against them. They embarrassed us at their place and we wanted revenge moreless."
   Unaka 65
   North Greene 50
   Solid team play and sound defense have been key reasons for the success of the Unaka Rangers this season.
   Backed behind solid shooting from Rusty Chambers and Josh Jones, the Rangers overcame a 30-point effort from Husky Matthew Burns to earn a 65-50 victory at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
   "It was a big win," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor. "It puts us in the championship game. North Greene is an improved team. Coach McLain does a good job with them. I think we came out ready to play and I was proud of team."
   Matthew Burns was a force all night for North Greene, scoring 16 of its 25 points at the break.
   He opened the game with some big buckets before a disagreement with the officials gave the bench a technical for North Greene.
   Rusty Chambers and Josh Jones led a big offensive rally for the Rangers, who took a quick 16-point lead after some clutch shots from Thomas Guess.
   Unaka kept their defense rolling and just dominated the Huskies taking a 20-point lead during the second quarter. Treys from Dustin Collins and Burns help the Huskies strike back within 16 at the break.
   Derek Cline came up with some big hoops for the Rangers to open the third quarter against Burns and the Huskies. Unaka kept on to their 20-point lead throughout the half and wound up with the fifteen point win.
   "We did pretty good on the boards," said Rusty Chambers. "We usually play a good first half and then we've been slacking in the fourth quarter. Tonight was different, we played hard the whole game."
   The game was overshadowed late by a senseless move from an area official who tossed North Greene coach David McLain with under a minute to go while the game was out of reach with his second technical.
   It will sit McLain out for Friday's game against University High.
   Chambers led Unaka with 25 points, while Jones and Cline had 18 and 10, respectively.