'Landers storm from behind to defeat Rangers

By Wes Holtsclaw

   At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Unaka Rangers were cruising with a 12-point lead over the Cloudland Highlanders.
   Somehow, Cloudland "Cooke'd" up a victory.
   With a 17-1 run to their favor, the 'Landers took advantage of three treys from Craig Cooke with a solid team effort on defense to sneak out of Smith Gym with a 54-50 victory.
   "We scored off our defense," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "We played good defense down the stretch and got some big boards. We appreciate the fan support we got tonight and this season. They've been good all year."
   The Rangers shot poorly in the fourth quarter and fell to Cloudland's press when they almost had the game wrapped up.
   "We did everything we needed to do up to the six-minute mark," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor, whose team needs a victory against Clinch to wrap up its conference title.
   "You're not going to beat a good basketball team like that," he said. "Our team ball went out the door. We stopped competing and didn't complete the game.
   "If we played this game tomorrow, I would play it the same way they did tonight."
   Both teams battled back and forth early before
   Derek Cline and Rusty Chambers went on a stretch of buckets to give the Rangers a five-point lead in the first quarter.
   A pair of treys from Cooke with buckets from Robbie Tolley and Mark Byrd helped the 'Landers secure a four-point lead going into the second quarter.
   Unaka dominated the majority of the next period, with Tyler McCann dropping three deuces to build another Ranger lead.
   Aaron Stocton got Cloudland's first bucket with 1:55 left in the half, closing the gap to three going into the locker room.
   Three buckets from Cody Collins and McCann led Unaka to a 12 point lead at one point in the third quarter.
   Cody Jones and Craig Cooke closed it back to eight, before Cline got a steal and bucket at the buzzer to make it 42-32 going into the final stretch.
   Cloudland began their run after Collins and McCann made it a 12-point game.
   The 'Landers went on their 17-1 with three big treys from Cooke and a pair of buckets from Byrd and Tolley to take a six-point lead.
   "Mark was pushing it well and we got some boards," said Cooke, who led the game with 18 points. "I got open and I was feeling it. I thank my teammates for getting me open."
   Cline hit a trey with six seconds left, but Cooke got a free throw to secure the win.
   Cloudland outscored Unaka 22-8 in the fourth quarter.
   "Coach Ensor does a great job with Unaka, and when they get ahead of you, they can put you away," said Byrd. "We played good defense and rebounded well late. Craig shot the lights out."
   Tolley added 15 points for Cloudland, while Byrd put up 12.
   McCann led the Rangers with 14 points, while Cline and Chambers tallied 11 apiece. Cody Collins dropped nine.
   For the 'Landers, Byrd and Cooke both believe the game could give them a boost down the road.
   "It gives us a big boost," Byrd said. "It was like I told the team before the game, they already had the title wrapped up; let's not play for the title but for pride.''
   Said Cooke: "It's a big win. They are a tough team and I think this could help us down the road."