Cloudland girls bested by Central

Kim Richardson
STAR Correspondent

   BLOUNTVILLE--The visiting Lady Highlanders of Cloudland High fought tenaciously against the Lady Cougars of Sullivan Central, but in the end it was the Cougars' ability to hit seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter, then withstand Cloudland's intense defensive pressure to preserve a 43-36 victory.
   Central head coach Gary Surcey attributed his guards' ability to survive the hustling, trapping defense as one of the keys to victory.
   "They gave us fits there for a while," he said. "They're well coached, and they ran to the ball really well."
   Coach Surcey used two full time outs to get his troops settled before they managed to beat the Landers' trap and score a couple easy baskets late in the third quarter.
   "We were having trouble with it for a few minutes," he said. "It's nothing we don't work on, a lot, and it's nearing tournament time. We'll work on it more, but we just needed to settle down and execute."
   Central forward Kayla Vaughn scored 13 points for the Lady Cougars, but quickly deferred most of the credit to teammate Beth Shelton.
   "Beth has had to overcome so much to get back into playing shape," Vaughn said, referring to Shelton's courage in fighting back after suffering a broken nose, two black eyes, a knee injury and then withstanding the trauma of kidney stones during this season. "She made some great passes, and I was lucky enough to be in good enough position to drop them through the hoop."
   Speaking of great passes, Cloudland guard Jessica Ledford made one of the very best passes of this basketball season during the third quarter. Ledford drove into the lane and spotted teammate Rebecca Clawson underneath.
   However, Clawson was fronted and well defended by Vaughn. Ledford flanked Vaughn with a spinning bounce pass into the waiting hands of Clawson for a layup, which, at the time, cut the Central lead to two.
   "We were trying so hard to work the ball inside, and I wasn't sure I could get it to her, but she has great hands, so I just put some spin on the ball and she made good on the basket," Ledford said.
   But all-in-all it was the Lady 'Landers inability to hit the mid-range jumper that spelled victory for Central.
   Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield gave credit to Central, but also reasoned that: "We had so many opportunities. I think we had four, five opportunities after getting to within 32-30 in the third. We were missing shots that we normally make, but hey, that's part of the game too."
   Cloudland has improved greatly, and if Clawson continues to battle through the pain of playing with a serious knee injury, the Highlanders are a serious threat to win the district tournament.
   April Williams noted the missed opportunitise at crunch time.
   "We did everything we needed to do; well, we did everything we needed to do, except make the shots," she said. "Oh, and we turned the ball over too many times. We'll just have to work harder in practice and bounce back."
   The Highlanders travel down to Hampton Thursday to go at it with the Bulldogs.