Highlanders hog-tie Longhorns

Photo by Kristen Luther
The Highlanders' Mark Byrd goes up for a short-range shot against Johnson County's Jon Stout.

By Tim Chambers
STAR Correspondent

   The weather outside was nasty in Roan Mountain Tuesday night, but inside Sonny Smith Gymnasium the Cloudland Highlanders were getting down and dirty.
   Behind an inspired team effort of hustle and determination, the Blue and Gold machine knocked off Johnson County 66-44 in a non-conference affair.
   Johnson County took a quick 2-0 lead off a Judd Shoun layup, but things would change in a hurry.
   Robbie Tolley's jumper and two free throws gave Cloudland a 4-2 lead. Johnson County's last tie would be 4-4 on two free throws by Justin Genaille.
   Cloudland stormed back with a vengeance behind baskets from Aaron Stocton, Cody Jones and a long three by Craig Cooke.
   Jon "Opossum" Pritchard entered the game and proceeded to give the 'Landers more fire than a new set of Autolite spark plugs. Pritchard's basket, followed by a big time three from Mark Byrd, pushed the lead to 16-6 with 3:00 remaining in the first period.
   A Pritchard hoop at the close of the quarter gave Cloudland a 20-8 lead.
   "I was looking to help my team," said Pritchard. "I wanted to give my team a lift by scoring and rebounding."
   While the Highlander offense continued to click in the second, the defense was causing problems for the Longhorn offense. The 'Horns were held to six points in the second period while Cloudland racked up 14.
   Capped off by two treys from Cooke and Jones and some strong offensive rebounding from Pritchard and Stocton, the Highlanders raced to a 31-14 halftime lead.
   Johnson County came out firing in the third quarter behind the long-range bombing of "Downtown" Shoun. Shoun accounted for 12 points in the period, but the Highlander would answer with some firepower of their own.
   Jones found his range for eight points, while Tolley, after sitting out much of the second quarter with two fouls, accounted for five to extend the lead at 54-32 after three.
   Shoun entered the fourth quarter hotter than a Frank and Marty's pizza, scoring the first five points of the period. But the Highlanders would not fold as Byrd dazzled the crowd with a circus move, which was followed by a nice turnaround bank shot from Stocton.
   Three buckets by Nick Winchester, James Miller and Luke Sparks accounted for the final margin.
   Tolley and Jones led the Highlanders with 14 each while Byrd and Cooke chipped in with nine. Stocton's eight, along with Pritchard's six points, spearheaded a well-balanced scoring attack.
   "We came out and play inspired basketball," added Stocton. "We seem to play much better as a unit tonight."
   Shoun was the top gun for Johnson County with 24, followed by Justin Genaille with 12.
   "We played some inspired basketball," said head coach Ned Smith. "We shot well and our rebounding was very good. We need to keep playing at this level because we have some key games left on our schedule."