Lady 'Landers dispatch Indians

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Cloudland Lady Highlanders continued their path of mass destruction Thursday night at Milligan College.
   Entering their contest with the Hancock County Lady Indians, Cloudland had breezed through their first two tournament games and finished off the clean sweep with a 59-46 Regional 1-A Championship scalping at Lacy Fieldhouse.
   Cloudland is one step closer to their goal of reaching the state tournament, but will first have to go through Oneida (lost to Harriman 68-42 last night) at Hampton High School on Saturday.
   The Lady 'Landers (28-4) led by as much as 26 in the contest before the bench finished off for their second straight regional crown. It was a solid outing from Cloudland's five senior starters who overwhelmed the dominant Hancock troupe from the opening tip.
   "We played real well against them and I didn't expect this," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "I didn't know how to match up man-to-man with them and get a lead. All five seniors stepped up with tremendous offense and defense -- I'm real happy with all of them."
   Region MVP Amy Storie and Tara Hanson both compiled 15 apiece for the 'Landers, who held Lady Indian tournament scoring leaders Kim Norris and Kim Seal to a combined 15 points behind Holly Blair and Nicki Webb.
   "I was worried about them," Birchfield said. "I saw them against Unaka, but we executed our offense and didn't fold. Their posts are as athletic as their point guards and I'm real happy with the game we had."
   "Cloudland is an all around good team," said Hancock County coach Harold Ramsey. "Our girls were tired and could've been mentally ready. I think that was the biggest facet of the game."
   "We should've been more patient on offense and more aggressive, but Cloudland was very tough tonight."
   Cloudland got their offense rolling behind Stachia Johnson and Holly Blair. Hanson made some big buckets over Hancock's Sarah Harrison as the Lady 'Landers opened up a 19-8 lead.
   Kim Norris and Kim Seal brought Hancock along during the second period, but Hanson and Storie bit the Lady Indians hard to take a 15-point advantage at the half.
   The Lady Indians trapped Cloudland from the beginning of the third, but Webb and Hanson were too much for Erica Collins. The Lady 'Landers went up by as much as 20, but Harrison stalled it for Hancock with Cloudland leading 45-27.
   Blair and Webb got some buckets to tip the lead for Cloudland throughout the fourth quarter.
   Collins and Harrison scored late on Cloudland's reserves and an accidental shot from 'Lander Crystal Arnold in Hancock's bucket at the end gave the 'Landers the 13-point victory.
   Hanson and Storie led Cloudland with 15 points, while Harrison and Collins led Hancock with 18 and 10 apiece.
   "I knew I didn't have a good game yesterday and focused on this one," said Hanson. "We didn't want to be on the road and played like it could be our last game."
   "I am excited about the win," Storie said. "We knew we had to win to play the substate game at home."
   "Since I came to Cloudland, I knew we had a winning team," she said. "We wanted to follow through this year. I feel bad for the seniors on the other teams, but we're selfish right now and I want us to have it all."
   The win was sweet for seniors Blair, Webb and Johnson, who all had stellar games both ways.
   "I kind of let down in the first quarter," said Blair who also had 10 points. "But my teammates were there and we were all talking on the court and it is good when you can build each other up."
   "It feels so good," Johnson said. "It was an important game and we knew we had to play defense. It will be great to have the home support this Saturday, our fans have been great."
   Webb joined Blair, Hanson and Storie on the All-Region team with her solid defense and clinching scoring throughout the week.
   Said Webb: "It was important to win because when you travel a long distance, it's hard to keep up. We wanted the home court advantage and want to go to state, so we will do everything we can to get there."
   "Hancock's a good team," she said, "They came out athletic and fought us hard. They played really well."
   Added Birchfield: "The state tournament has been a goal all year. We want to get there and we are one step away. This Saturday, we've got to step up and do well."
   If the Lady 'Landers play like they have this past week at Milligan College, it will be hard for any team to stop this squad.
   University High 53
   Hancock Co. 51
   The University High Junior Bucs used a solid outing from Brandon Bradley (17 points) and Gary Willams (14 points) to outlast Rocky Nichols and the Hancock County Indians to earn a home substate berth with the regional tilt at Milligan.
   Said Bradley: "If we wanted to win, I had to have a big game. The crowd really showed up tonight and kept us pumped up. I had to come out and show what I had to offer because a lot of people doubted me."
   Bradley earned the MVP award over Nichols (22 points) and believed 'The Rock' was all talk and no walk.
   "He wasn't tough defensively and he guarded me a little on offense," he said, "He talked trash, but he couldn't guard me. They quit putting him on me and they knew better."
   Hancock County led by three after the first period, but three fouls on Nichols helped UH gain a 16-8 swing in the second quarter and the game never changed.
   University High will host the loser of Cosby and Rockwood today at Midway High School.
   Hancock's Aaron Seal finished with 12 points after missing the final shot of the game.