Lady Rangers snare WVC crown

By Tim Chambers

   Vonda Shepard sang the song "Walk Away Renee" back in 1967. The Lady Highlanders should have been singing the same tune in the fourth quarter Tuesday night at Sonny Smith Gymnasium.
   Led by the 16-point explosion from 5-6 point guard Renee Ensor, the Rangers stormed back from 10 points down to take a 49-46 win over the Lady Highlanders.
   The win clinches first place for the Lady Rangers and the number one seed in the upcoming district one tournament to be held at Milligan College.
   "I am so proud of my teammates," said a jubilant Renee Ensor. "We never quit. They were box and one on Jess (Osborne) and that opened up the lanes for me."
   The first quarter was a close knit affair with the lead switching hands five times in the period. After a long three by Renee Ensor to put Unaka up by two, Cloudland charged back behind buckets from Heather Banner, Jessica Lunsford, Crystal Arnold and April Williams to take a 14-9 lead after one.
   Cloudland pushed the margin to nine on back-to-back hoops from Arnold and Jessica McGuire, but Unaka responded with Coty Townsend. Townsend's deuce followed by a long trey from the wing cut the margin to 18-14 with 4:50 remaining in the second frame.
   Baskets by Kala Blevins and Lunsford pushed the lead back at 22-14, but Unaka answered with a nice move from Danielle Ensor. A Blevins fadeaway in the closing seconds game the Highlanders an eight-point lead at intermission.
   Unaka battled back in the third with Renee and Danielle Ensor hitting hoops to cut the lead at four. After four points by Williams and two from Blevins Unaka fought back behind two from Babb and a long three from Jessica Osborne to trail 34-29 going in the final period.
   The fourth quarter belonged to Renee Ensor as Cloudland was unable to stop her penetration and pinpoint outside shooting.
   After a Williams bucket to push the 'Lander lead back at five, Ensor answered with a three-point play to cut the margin at 41-38. Unaka took their first lead of the second half at 42-41 on a inside move from Julie Roberson, but Banner answered with a baseline jumper to give Cloudland a one-point advantage.
   A long bomb from Renee Ensor followed by her two free throws gave Unaka a 47-43 lead with :17 remaining. Cloudland refused to fold with as Arnold banked in a 30-footer from the top of the key to cut the margin to one at 47-46.
   Forced to foul at the :07 mark Roberson sank 2-2 to give Unaka a 3-point cushion. Cloudland was unable to get off a desperation three-point shot at the end and the Lady Rangers celebrated their first conference championship since the late '80s.
   Renee Ensor had a game-high 23 to pace Unaka, while Roberson and Townsend followed with seven each.
   Lunsford and Williams tossed in 11 each to lead Cloudland while Blevins and Arnold chipped in with eight and seven, respectively.
   "We came out and played Cloudland's type of game in the second half," stated Ranger coach Kenneth Chambers. "They were physical so we had to get more aggressive. I felt like our hustle was outstanding in the fourth quarter. Cloudland is a very solid team and Matt (Birchfield) had done a super job with those girls this year."