Championship honors go to Jr. Rangers, Lady Jr. 'Landers

By Marvin Birchfield

   The Carter/Johnson County seventh-grade tournament wrapped up on Saturday, with Unaka winning first place in the boys and Cloudland claiming the championship in the girls.
   The Jr. Rangers exploded during the second quarter, jumping out to an 18-8 lead by halftime.
   "The first quarter on I thought we were a little hesitant and didn't take good shots, but in the second period we settled down and played real well," said Unaka coach Mark Revis. "I thought we played the best defense tonight that we had so far."
   Johnson County dueled to a 5-5 tie at the end of the first period, after Andrew Freeman drained a three with 2.5 seconds left.
   To start the second quarter, Unaka scored the first 13 points, which was led by the tournaments MVP Jeff Peters.
   "Most of the seventh graders played on our varsity team, so I think having the experience we had coming into the tournament gave us a big advantage," said Revis.
   Peters finished the night with 21 points, which adds to his 1,140-point total in two years at Unaka, with 809 of them coming this season.
   The Rangers picked up where they left off during the third quarter with Peters on the inside and Adam Colbaugh on the boards to pull ahead 30-14 heading into the final period.
   "Both Colbaugh and Peters stepped it up all season, and they went to them tonight and executed well," said Johnson County coach Jullian Crews. "Rebounding hurt us some, but we didn't play bad. It was just they played better."
   Austin Phillips knocked down a couple of three-point goals in the fourth period, as he finished the night as the Jr. Longhorns' leading scorer with nine points.
   In the girls title action, it was Cloudland knocking off Happy Valley 34-24.
   It was a tough battle throughout the first half, which saw the Lady Jr. Warriors heading to the locker room with a two-point advantage.
   "Both teams played good defense all night, and good defense leads to rebounding," said Cloudland coach Randy Birchfield. "We had some girls step up and get the boards along with knocking down big shots at the end."
   Happy Valley drew to a 9-9 tie after the first period, when Brittany Rice sank one of two free throws with 5.4 seconds left.
   The Warriors grabbed a 17-15 lead at the half, after Lindsey Toney nailed a three and Kelsie Denton made a put back on the offensive glass.
   Cloudland's defense stepped up during the third period, which allowed just two points coming from Warrior's Summer Ward off the break.
   "We had several opportunities to fold up tent and go home," said Birchfield. "The kids had ice in their veins and played hard and smart, for it was a total team effort."
   Two baseline jumpers from Brooke Johnson gave the 'Landers a 23-19 lead at the end of the third period, as they continued to keep Happy Valley's offense out of rhythm during the fourth.
   Some key rebounds and baskets inside from Shellie McKinney contributed to her getting the award as the tournaments MVP, as she led the Lady Jr. 'Landers with 13 points.
   "They're really physical and started taking it to us the second-half," said Happy Valley coach Dana Hill. "As you start out you always shoot for that number one spot, but we've got a lot of growing to do, so I look forward to next season."
   Boys consolation
   Hunter 48
   Happy Valley 31
   The final score didn't quite indicate the first three quarters of action, which witnessed a three-point margin grow to 17 by game's end.
   "Our bench really stepped up tonight, and we had a lot of people that contributed offensively," said Hunter coach Daniel McInturff. "We have just four seventh-graders, and we had a bunch of sixth graders step up along with a fifth grader."
   Hunter led 14-9 at the end of the first period, with Drew Chambers converting a bucket down low to give the Tigers an early advantage.
   Happy Valley came back in the second period by scoring the first eight points with six of them coming from Chris Bardo.
   The Tigers managed to wrestle away the lead by the end of the half, when Cody Cornett made a shot along the baseline, giving Hunter a 26-24 advantage.
   Neither team produced much offense during the third period, as Hunter clung to a 30-27 lead to start the fourth and final quarter.
   The Tigers got on a roll during the fourth with Kelly Rapert coming up big on the boards to lead the Hunter in scoring with 14 points, while the Jr. Warriors were held to seven points during the second half.
   Girls Consolation
   Hunter 38
   Hampton 37
   There was no question to what was the most exciting game of the night, as Hunter swapped the lead twice in the final minute to edge out a 38-37 victory over Hampton.
   The Lady Tigers fell behind 20-11 at the half, but they battled their way through to still have a chance in the final minutes.
   "In the first half we didn't play up to our potential offensively or defensively, but in the second half they played hard and really stepped it up," said Hunter coach Tammy Taylor.
   After the Tigers made a nice run during the third quarter to grab a one-point advantage, Hampton came back with the full-court press to take a 29-23 lead at the end of the period.
   In the final period, Hannah Colbaugh and Kayla Winters stepped up on the offensive end to score all but one of the Tigers' fourth-quarter points.
   A shot from Winters with 57 seconds to go gave Hunter a one-point lead, but Hampton responded with a 12-foot jumper by Cassie Johnson.
   With time running out, Winters came back to knock down a short jumper with 1.9 seconds left, giving the last-minute thrilling victory to Hunter.
   Winters led Hunter on the evening with 17 points, while Mikki Oliver poured in 14 points for Hampton.