Junior Bulldog teams stand tall in large division finals

By Rebecca Pierson

   Large school victories were covered with pawprints on Friday night at Snavely Gym, where Hampton's boys and girls came out victorious in the finals of the Carter/Johnson County Elementary District Tournament.
   The Lady Jr. Bulldogs went down 16-9 at the half, only to come back in the second for a 36-29 over Happy Valley.
   "They came to win," said the near speechless Ronnie Street, head coach for Hampton. "They played hard. They missed a lot of foul shots but we made it up by hustling and desire. They just wanted this game. They talked about it all week."
   The Lady Warriors came back from the half and added a quick seven points, but the Lady Bulldogs would own the backboard for the rest of the game.
   Mikki Oliver had a steal for an easy layup to bring the score to 21-16. Then Josi McKinney stole the ball and worked the pass off to Mary Beth Ingram for a shot. Andrea Smith would have two more field goals to leave the third at 24-21.
   In the fourth, Hampton kept the ball out of Happy Valley's hands, including a steal and halfcourt pass from Sara Goodwin to Oliver for an easy layup.
   "Mikki Oliver always comes to play," said Street. "Sara Goodwin came off the bench in the second half. She is the one who made that long pass at the end. We have had two good practices. They just came over here to win it and they did. I am very, very proud of them."
   He said: "They have improved on their shooting and passing, but I am not taking anything away from Happy Valley. They have a good ball team. We have met four times this year. We beat them twice. They beat us twice. So we are pretty much even. My girls just played with their heart tonight, and I am really proud of them."
   The top scorer for Hampton was Oliver with eight field goals and six free throws for 22 points.
   Happy Valley's top scorer was Summer Ward with five; and Nichole Hardin, Hannah Banks and Courtney Byers were good for four.
   "I thought we played awfully hard but we just had some mental letdowns there," said Happy Valley head coach Dana Hill. "Hampton went down by 10 in the third quarter, and we ended up being down by three at the end of the quarter. I thought that was a big difference there.
   "We played hard but I give Hampton a lot of credit," he said. "They never gave up when it got down, and they came back take the game from us. We made some bad decisions at times, but I thought my girls played hard. They have all year."
   He said: "One game doesn't erase a whole year. I am really proud of them for that. I think we have come together more as a team. We are learning our roles. I think our team defense, although it didn't show tonight, is a main part of us. Our team, the nucleus of it, feeds off our defense. I think we had total seven rebounds in the second half. I think that was the biggest difference in our game."
   In the boys' finals, Hampton's defense proved to be unstoppable as they it allowed Cloudland four points in the first quarter, and none in the second, for a 45-24 final score.
   Hampton's Dustin Jaynes lead the game with 16 points, including two 3-pointers, followed by Jarred Irick for eight and Bobby James for seven.
   "I don't know if I have even been prouder of a group of kids," said Leon Tolley, head coach for Hampton. "I am very happy for them. This same group of kids started out last year 0-9 and never gave up. That may be one of our best defensive efforts we have ever had."
   Hampton's defense was hard pressed, but not overaggressive, as they only sent Cloudland to the foul line five times.
   "We have stepped up our defensive mentality," Tolley said. "Early on in the year, we were losing our focus on the level of competition. We have leveled off and take every game one at a time. That helped us out tonight because Cloudland has a real good ball club. I thought every one of them did a great job."
   Cloudland's Michael Lunsford banked five field goals and one from way outside to lead the team with 13 points. Jordan Hughes had two field goals and one 3-pointer for seven.
   After a scoreless second quarter, the Highlanders came back from the locker room ready to put some points on the board, but could not slow down the Bulldog defense.
   "We didn't play as well as we had been playing," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "We've played better than that, but Hampton had a lot to do with it. They played really well, and did a great job with their defense."
   "We had a hard time running our offense, and running the ball against their defense," he said. "We just have to get better for next week's tournament and see if we can't do a better job handling the ball.
   He said: "We have come a long way. They really weren't a very good team to start [the season] but they have really improved. We still have a ways to go. Winning a conference championship though, I think that is the first one that I remember they ever won. It's a great feat, and they have had a great season."