Lady 'Landers can't hold 12-point lead

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   MURFREESBORO -- For three quarters, the Cloudland Lady Highlanders owned the glass house. Then they simply fell apart.
   Backed behind a spirited defense, the Moore County Raiderettes fought from a 12-point deficit to top Cloudland 44-37 in the first round of the TSSAA 1-A girls tournament at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro on Wednesday.
   "They just won't quit," said Moore County head coach Gayle Sessions. "They hustled and got after it. We got better rebounds and they all did well from the bench."
   Cloudland led by four points after three quarters and were outscored 17-6 in the final frame. A big three-pointer from LaShonda Holt tied it up for the Raiderettes and gave them the boost they needed.
   The fatigued Lady 'Landers didn't score in the last three minutes of the contest as they let their lead fall with three straight steals to Miss Basketball nominee Abby Fanning.
   Moore County ran the clock down efficiently and made clutch free throws in the end to take the win.
   "They made some big shots," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "(Lashonda Holt) came off the bench and made a big three, they jumped their press and it shook us a little bit. We made some bad turnovers and never controlled the game when we had to."
   Cloudland opened the game with strong defense from Nicki Webb and Tara Hanson, adding some inside buckets from Holly Blair and Stachia Johnson to take an 11-8 lead over the Raiderettes after one.
   Amy Storie jump started the second quarter with a pair of buckets for the Lady 'Landers.
   A big trey from Stachia Johnson put Cloudland up by 12. However, Kaleigh Fletcher and Ranata Draine battled Moore County within six points at the end of the first half.
   Storie and Hanson got some buckets to open the third period, taking a nine-point lead.
   Cloudland seemed to take an advantage early on the boards, but two straight buckets from Abby Fanning and Fallon Blackburn made it a new game.
   Fletcher picked up a score to cut Cloudland down going into the fourth.
   "I knew we had to step up," said Kaleigh Fletcher, who led the Raiderettes with 12 points. "I felt like we could win, we just had to have confidence.
   "The team was so supportive and they kept the fire alive in us."
   Fanning's on-court leadership seemed to pace Moore County in the final frame.
   "We came back out and got some big things in the fourth quarter," said Fanning. "I felt like I hadn't done enough and I knew I needed to pick it up. Lashonda had that big shot and it brought us back."
   The loss was heartbreaking for the 'Lander seniors: Amy Storie, Tara Hanson, Nicki Webb, Holly Blair and Stachia Johnson.
   "We just wanted to win so bad," said Storie, who led the game with 13 points. "I don't know what happened. We missed some crucial shots and freaked out a little bit on offense. We got too relaxed on defense and you can't do that."
   "I think knowing we could've and should've won makes it tough," said Hanson, adding 11 points. "We had a lead and gave it up. I don't know how I'll ever get over it. We deserve to be playing on Friday, We just let the pressure get to us. They made big shots at the end and we just fell apart."
   "It's devastating," said Birchfield. "The time and effort, the games they've played and now to realize it's over. It's going to be hard for them to think about winning over 100 games in their career.
   "It breaks your heart to see five girls like they are. They accomplished a lot for me and taught me so much. I can't ask enough out of those five kids."
   "This is the end," added Hanson, who was forced to leave the game with less than a minute remaining after she took a spill and blood started to pour from her knee. "I didn't think it would end like this. We wanted this game more than anything -- it's been a great four years."
   Said Storie: "I love my team more than anything. It hurts that something you work your whole life for is over in 32 minutes. I appreciate the coach and my teammates, especially the five seniors."
   Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Cloudland squad can look back on the season as a success.
   Said Birchfield: "It's been a tremendous year. You have great years if you have great leaders and these seniors were that. I hope the young kids will see and follow in their footsteps. It ends on a bad one, but overall it was phenomenal."
   GAME NOTES: Cloudland shot over 55 percent in the first half, but only managed to squeeze out 25 percent in the second.
   Seniors Nicki Webb and Stachia Johnson tallied five points apiece for the Lady 'Landers, while Fanning and Blackburn totaled eight and seven, respectively, for Moore County.
   The 'Landers did an impressive job defensively through three quarters against Moore County, as the Raiderettes only managed 30 percent shooting until the fourth quarter.
   In other games, Huntingdon defeated Harriman 39-30, Ezell-Harding topped Westmoreland 47-37 and Peabody ousted Friendship Christian, 40-29.