Lady Rangers end district title drought

By Tim Chambers

   Lady Ranger basketball fans have been starving a long time for a district championship. After all, it had been nearly 16 years since Unaka claimed a district crown.
   But now the hunger is over. Playing inspired basketball from the outset, the Lady Rangers laid claim to the District -A championship by defeating county rival Cloudland 52-42 Friday night at Milligan College.
   "We played very well as a team tonight," stated head coach Kenneth Chambers. "We were able to shut down their inside game while having players step up and perform at the next level."
   One player who elevated her game was junior forward Danielle Ensor. Ensor accounted for 18 points and nine rebounds while being named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
   "It feels great beating Cloudland and winning the championship," said Ensor. "I give credit to all my teammates for playing well. I tried to step up on offense with Julie in foul trouble."
   Unaka jumped on top 4-0 in the opening minutes on buckets from Julie Roberson and Ensor. Cloudland got its first field goal at the 5:40 mark on a hoop from April Williams.
   Unaka opened up an 8-2 advantage thanks to a jumper from Renee Ensor and two free throws from Coty Townsend. Rebecca Clawson's putback cut the lead at 8-4, but the Ensor connection of Danielle and Renee tossed in five unanswered points to give Unaka a 13-4 lead after one.
   Cloudland opened the second quarter with a drive from Jessica Lunsford and a deuce from April Williams, but Unaka stood firm with Danielle Ensor tossing in four points to up the advantage at 17-8.
   After a baseline jumper by Heather Banner, Unaka reeled off five more on Lacey Gouge's basket and Renee Ensor's trey, pushing the lead to 24-11 at the 3:20 mark.
   Lunsford's twisting move chalked up two for the 'Landers, but the Rangers continued to roll. Tiffany Babb's four points, including two at the 10-second mark and a three-point launch from Jessica Osborne, helped Unaka lead 32-15 at the half.
   Cloudland came out sizzling in the third thanks to three long treys from Banner to cut the lead to 35-24. Banner's 11 points in the period helped Cloudland shrink the lead to nine at the end of three.
   "I knew we were having trouble on offense, so I tried to step up and help our team," said Banner. "Things didn't go too well tonight, so I had to try and get things going. We just have to try to work hard and get ready for regionals."
   Unaka opened the fourth with a nice fake and drive from Danielle Ensor, but Banner was bombing with her fourth three of the game, cutting the lead to 40-32.
   After a timeout, Unaka decided to go inside and the Rangers made them pay with eight unanswered points, six coming by way of Danielle Ensor.
   Lunsford tried to keep the 'Landers close with seven points in the quarter, but Unaka maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way to earn the district title.
   Renee Ensor tossed in 12 to help the Ranger cause, while Roberson added eight before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Renee Ensor added five assists to go along with four steals in the game.
   Banner fired in 16 for the 'Landers while Lunsford added 13 to the cause. Lunsford collected seven rebounds and tossed out six assists.
   "Give Unaka credit, they played well on both ends," said Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield. "We weren't in shape on offense and our defense gave up too many easy baskets. We will work on those things and get ready for the regional."
   The Rangers and Highlanders will take part in the Region 1-A tournament at Hancock County High school beginning Monday.