Lady 'Landers nip Unaka

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Leading by one with under a minute to go in their contest against Unaka, the Cloudland Lady Highlanders were right where they wanted to be -- until they turned it over.
   The Lady Rangers took control and went for it, but a foul sent Jessica Osborne to the line. Osborne sank one of the free throws, putting the ball back in Cloudland's possession with the time running down.
   Unaka kept its defense going, but 'Lander Tara Hanson dribbled around before she found Amy Storie with two seconds left on the clock.
   "I knew I had to get it off, bad," said Storie, who earned the District 1-A tournament MVP award. "I got it and went for it."
   Storie was held under pressure from the Lady Rangers and shot the ball in a close relay with the clock and after the buzzer had sounded. It dropped.
   One official waved the shot off, while the side judge made a valiant downward stride to give Cloudland the 34-32 championship victory at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse on Friday night.
   "It counted, but that's not why we lost," said Unaka coach Ken Chambers. "We missed some free throws and some lay-ups when we needed them. We executed OK, it was just one of those things."
   Both teams fought tooth and nail throughout the fourth quarter of the contest as Cloudland trailed by two before Storie and Hanson helped build Cloudland's momentum.
   Jordan Muratore and Osborne had Unaka's lone three points in the period, while Cloudland was held to the last bucket with stingy defense from the Ranger squad.
   "I thought we played hard and left everything out on the floor," Chambers said. "We played hard up, in your face defense and the whole team did great. I hope we get another chance to meet them in the regionals."
   "Their defense dictated what we were doing and gave us a big disadvantage," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "They took Hanson out of our offense and we got play out of other kids and then the big bucket from Amy.
   "Their guards, Ensor and Taylor, stepped up and made it tough on us. We didn't shoot it well and struggled. It was a defensive battle."
   The game swapped around during the beginning between the squads. Unaka took advantage of some fast breaks while Cloudland went inside.
   Hanson and Storie pushed Cloudland up by six down to the end of the period with a 10-4 lead.
   Kelly Taylor lit up a three to open Unaka in the second period. Renee Ensor cut it to one before a controversial foul got a technical from Unaka's bench. Cloudland used a big bucket from April Williams to stretch it back out.
   Taylor and Hanson continued their battle, but Cloudland held on with a 21-15 lead.
   Unaka came out for a vengeance in the second half.
   Lacy Gouge hit a big three for Unaka to open up the contest before Danielle Ensor made some big buckets to take a three-point lead for the Lady Rangers. Taylor and Hanson continued a shooting war, but Unaka kept a 29-27 lead after three.
   Cloudland started 1 of 10 from three-point line going into the fourth quarter. A big key in the contest was Cloudland holding Unaka's highly-touted center, Julie Roberson, scoreless.
   "I said before the game that I would like to hold her scoreless," Storie said. "It was a big accomplishment for me."
   Hanson led the game with 15 points for Cloudland, while Taylor netted 12 for Unaka. Storie followed with eight for the Lady 'Landers, while Renee and Danielle Ensor had six a piece for Unaka.
   Cloudland plays Washburn on Monday, while Unaka drew Jellico in the first round of the regional tournament for a Tuesday matchup.