Lady 'Landers rip NG, 69-21

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Cloudland Lady Highlanders opened up right where they left off against Washburn two nights before with a dominating 69-21 performance against North Greene to advance to the regional championship against Hancock County.
   Cloudland held a tough North Greene team to only nine points in the first half, and got good time out of their depth.
   "We knew that had to be our game plan," said Lady 'Lander coach Matt Birchfield. "We wanted to take away (Patricia) Penley and (Haley) Williams away and hoped our inside game matched up with theirs.
   "Nicki Webb played good defense, Holly (Blair) and Tara (Hanson) did a good job keeping things in check. I was real happy with our defensive effort."
   Cloudland went on a 14-2 run behind Storie and Blair to open the game, and got big buckets from Johnson and Webb to take an 18-5 advantage after one.
   North Greene didn't shoot the ball well due to Cloudland's pressure as they spread out their offense. Cloudland got good minutes from their bench in the second half as they held on to the solid win.
   A scary moment occurred for Cloudland in the second half as April Williams went down after an injury to her previously uninjured knee.
   Missing last season due to an ACL tear, Williams possibly tore some cartilage and will undergo an MRI tomorrow.
   Cloudland meets Hancock County in what should be a true war for the regional title at 7 p.m. tomorrow night.
   "They are real athletic," Birchfield said. "Their starting five are tremendous and they handle and shoot the ball well inside and out. We've got to get settled on defense and work inside on them."
   Amy Storie led all scores with 15 for the 'Landers.
   Hancock County 65
   Unaka 53
   The Hancock County Lady Indians didn't forget what happened in the regional semifinals last year at LMU.
   Trailing by as much as 10 to the Unaka Lady Rangers in the second half, the Lady Indians (25-7) bounced back behind a tough starting five to outscore Unaka 25-9 in the fourth quarter en route to a 65-53 victory in a rematch at Lacy Fieldhouse.
   Unaka trailed by one in the first quarter and shot the ball well outside to get where they wanted. But 20 percent from the field in the second half really hurt the Lady Rangers.
   "Our shots didn't fall," said Unaka coach Ken Chambers. "Our point guard (Renee Ensor) was sick and couldn't go, so we had to do the best we could. We missed to many easy shots inside and should've put it away in the first half -- but they came back and we got rattled and that was it."
   "I reminded myself of that," said Hancock coach Harold Ramsey of last year's outing. "We didn't play well last year and we didn't in the first half of this game."
   Hancock County's starting five took all of the shots and did all of the scoring during the contest. It was a solid outing for the young squad.
   "I had it in my mind to sub," Ramsey said. "But they did good in the first quarter and we wanted to go with what was working. Unaka jumped out and got on top of us in the second and we didn't get aggressive."
   "We put in a new defense in the second half and it threw them off. The girls played hard enough and got in the lead."
   Unaka trailed by seven in the first period after a strong showing from Hancock's Kim Seal. Ranger seniors Heather and Kelly Taylor began lighting it up from downtown to pull the Lady Rangers within one.
   Jessica Osborne and Tiffany Babb got some critical hoops for Unaka in the second as they stretched their lead out to eight at the half.
   Osborne (10 points) and Heather Taylor opened up strong for Unaka as they led by 12 in the third period. Kim Norris got hot for Hancock with an eight point run to battle the Indians back. Unaka led 42-40 after the period.
   Norris and Erica Collins helped Hancock earn some momentum and take a lead. Tia Possiel and Seal hit some buckets to push the lead to nine.
   But as Unaka struck back with some buckets from Heather Taylor, Norris and Sarah Harrison stayed even for the Lady Indians as they wound the clock down for the win.
   Norris and Seal led Hancock with 22 and 20 a piece, while Harrison netted ten.
   "We knew if we lost it that we were out," said Hancock's Seal. "We relied on our defense and Kimmy Norris to get us back in it. We shut down their threes outside and that was big for us.
   "I'm the only senior and we all wanted it. We haven't been in the regional finals in a few years and we want to get that substate game at home. So that's what we're looking for tomorrow."
   It was a tough ending for the Unaka Lady Rangers and seniors Heather (12 points) and Kelly Taylor (10 points). Both sisters finished the game in double digits scoring and will be missed by their team.
   Said Chambers: "We had a great season and you can't ask for no more. We played hard and I'm proud of all the girls. (Kelly and Heather) were very important. They never argued and gave everything they had. They were never any problems with them and they will be missed tremendously."