Cloudland makes state reservations

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Two years ago, the Cloudland Lady Highlanders had their season cut short by a last second three-point shot at Oneida.
   This year, with the last seconds ticking away, Lady Indian Tristan Bond threw it up to tie the contest and send it into overtime.
   A bounce off the rim and a rebound from Stachia Johnson sealed the deal as the Cloudland Lady Highlanders (30-4) outlasted the Oneida Lady Indians (19-15) 44-41 at VanHuss-White Gymnasium on Saturday to advance to the TSSAA 1-A state tournament in Murfreesboro.
   "They did the same exact thing 10 years ago down there," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "There was pressure going into the game about making it back to state. We played uptight and that was the best man-to-man defense we've ran into all year. We got hesitant and they almost came back."
   "Two years ago we went into overtime," said Oneida coach Gabe West. "This year, we got a good look at the end. Tristin went to the wing and threw it up -- it just didn't follow. I'm tickled with our kids."
   Cloudland led by as much as 13 in the substate round before Oneida scrambled back within one point. Some big free throws late from Tara Hanson counted with the season on the line for the Lady 'Landers.
   "I was extremely nervous," said Hanson, who led the 'Landers with a game-high 17 points. "I couldn't hit a free throw all night. They were the most important shots I've ever taken and I don't know how I hit them."
   Hanson was set up on two straight trips, but an important steal inside with eight seconds left set her up for the big finish.
   "I figured they would throw it back," she said. "I just watched her eyes and it came to me."
   Cloudland pressured Oneida with defense and that was a big key according to Stachia Johnson.
   "I thought I was going to have a heart attack," joked Stachia Johnson. "We knew we couldn't give them a three because of two years ago."
   Oneida jumped out hard on Cloudland behind buckets from Bond and Alisha Abbott. Hanson and Nicki Webb had clutch buckets early, but the Lady Indians held on to an 8-5 advantage.
   The tide shifted for the Lady 'Landers in the second quarter behind solid offense from Hanson and three straight plays from Amy Storie and Nicki Webb.
   Defense from Webb and Holly Blair was a big key as Cloudland outscored Oneida 20-6 in the period to take a 25-14 lead at the half.
   "In the second quarter, Cloudland picked it up when they had to," West said. "I think that was the difference in the game."
   Heather Caldwell and Brittany Creech helped Oneida cut a 13-point 'Lander lead down to seven. But Blair and Storie made some clutch shots to keep a nine-point lead intact for Cloudland.
   Creech and Katie Sexton played big for Oneida in the fourth quarter with an array of buckets to cut Cloudland's lead to one late before the clutch charity shots came into play.
   Oneida had three players in double digits with Bond (12), Abbott (10 points) and Creech (10 points). Amy Storie added eight for Cloudland.
   "They came back and got it together," said Storie. "We wanted to stop them and we're going to state. That's all that matters."
   Cloudland will wait for its state tourney draw, which is scheduled to be up Sunday afternoon on the TSSAA website. No matter the draw, the experience from last year in the MTSU Murphy Center will help the 'Landers.
   "Last year, it helped us to play in the atmosphere," Birchfield added. "It will be more comfortable this year and hopefully we can play our game and be a success."
   Said Hanson: "The draw is everything. Last year, we just wanted to play there. This year, we want to at least win a game. We'll be ready."
   Region runner-up Hancock County was defeated by Harriman, 49-45 in substate play.
   Other teams in the state tournament include Friendship Christian (27-8, beat Tyner 77-62), Westmoreland (31-2, beat Chattanooga Christian 46-43), Ezell-Harding (beat Wayne County 49-40), Moore County (30-4, beat FRA 52-40), Huntingdon (beat Dresden 45-40), Peabody (28-3, beat USJ 60-40).