Unaka, Cloudland ready to heat up District 1-A finals

By Wes Holtsclaw

   It will be a war of Carter County, again.
   Today's District 1-1A tournament finale in the boys and girls brackets reunites Cloudland and Unaka for the second straight year in what should be an interesting evening of basketball at Milligan College.
   North Greene and University High will open the evening in the consolation games.
   Losing a host of seniors, the Unaka and Cloudland boys teams defied all odds this season finishing first and second in the conference and continued their prowess by advancing to their third meeting of the year with wins over North Greene and University High, respectively, on Tuesday.
   Unaka used a stellar defensive outing to overwhelm the Huskies, while Cloudland took off on big offensive spurts to top UH.
   "It's going to be real big for us," said Cloudland guard Mark Byrd. "Unaka's got a heck of a ball club, they are athletic and well-coached. We've got to be prepared for them. On paper, it's going to be a good game."
   Both teams will have outings from their big scorers, but the big key in this contest as in years past will be the play of the bench. Expect someone to step up and be a big factor in the championship game.
   The early-season favorites among many people were the Junior Bucs, who returned almost everyone from the year before. They will be playing for the third seed in the regional tournament and according to Coach Tony Gordon it is still big.
   "It's important to win," Gordon said. "You definitely want to advance. We certainly have goals that can be reachable. We just need some confidence because we are down right now."
   Clinch's Clint Hurd already sealed his position on the all-tournament team with a 20-point effort in a loss against the Huskies on Monday. However, the other spots are up for grabs.
   Leading the tournament in scoring is North Greene's Matthew Burns who scored 30 against Unaka. Unaka's Rusty Chambers is a close second with 25, while Junior Buc Brandon Bradley had 20 against Cloudland.
   The girls' side of the tournament was a no-brainer with the Lady 'Landers and Lady Rangers reaching the district title contest again. Last year, Cloudland barely escaped with the win and Unaka will not back down in this contest.
   To get to the title game this year, Unaka experienced a battle with North Greene while Cloudland breezed past University High. The finale will be a different situation on both sides.
   Unaka will get some help from returning Heather Taylor, while Cloudland sharp-shooters Tara Hanson and Stachia Johnson will be out for a better showing after a soft outing on Tuesday.
   North Greene and University High should go down to the wire, but the Lady Huskies have more scoring opportunities with Patricia Penley and Haley Williams.
   Penley leads all players in scoring thus far with her 22 points against Unaka. Cloudland's Amy Storie had 18 against the Lady Bucs and three other players netted 11.
   It should be an interesting series of games tomorrow night, one word of advice this sportswriter can give is to get there early before all of the seats are gone.
   If the championship games are anything like the previous contests the teams had this year, it will be goal-to-goal excitement and a war between Stoney Creek and Roan Mountain to see who can be the loudest.
   REGIONAL TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK: The big key to district tournament play is regional seeding and in District 2-1A there has been some surprises entering the championship games.
   Hancock County is the only boys team that really poses a threat to anyone from our district, returning "The Rock" Rocky Nichols and Aaron Seal from last year's state tournament squad.
   Nichols, only the second Hancock player to reach the 2,000-point pinnacle, has been a big recruit for Milligan College recently and would like to put on a show against some others in the area.
   Hancock also sports a pretty solid girls team, as does Powell Valley. Both of these squads will be tough to beat in the girls bracket, but Cloudland and Unaka topped them at LMU last year and are looking to do it again.