Cloudland girls, boys earn semifinal berths

By Kim Richardson
Star Correspondent

   SNEEDVILLE--Those old enough to remember the "Old Erwin Highway" can relate to the drive to Sneedville. There are numerous ways to get there and everyone who's been there even once thinks he or she has the preferred route.
   One thing's for certain, there's really no easy way into Sneedville; but once there, the natural beauty and the beautiful school combine to make the trip worthwhile.
   One of the benefits of sportswriting is the hospitality room. Some are good, some better than others. But none of us covering Region 1-A tournament action at Hancock County would have expected this: BBQ (chicken, pork) chili, salad, chips, cold-cuts, a desert table half the length of the room.
   And our hosts, Hancock High's guidance counselor, Mrs. Becky Holt, and her sister, Lena Short, couldn't have been nicer.
   "Well I started the chickens in the crock pot and in the oven at 12:30 this morning," Holt said. "All the other things, well, they were just sort of thrown together as we went along."
   Trust me, none of the delights served at Hancock High School were "thrown together."
   Hancock High's principal, Tommy Zachery, must have had Sunday Dinner at the Holts before hiring Mrs. Holt. He really knows how to pick them.
   And then there were the ball games. It started according to plan for Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield.
   "We played almost one good quarter," said Coach Birchfield, whose team downed Washburn 51-44, "and after that we just had to hold on. We'll have to play much better to compete with Hancock County."
   The score after one was 19-8 Cloudland with the Highlanders seemingly in control. Cloudland and Washburn played even in the second quarter, scoring 10 points each, but the last six points were scored by Washburn, which gave them momentum heading into halftime.
   The second half saw Washburn hold their own with the more aggressive but poor-shooting Highlanders, but the game still seemed to be in hand, though Washburn outscored Cloudland 15 to 13 which set the stage for a pretty interesting finish. The score after three quarters was Cloudland 42, Washburn 33.
   But over the next four minutes Washburn chewed away at the Cloudland lead and at the halfway point in the fourth the Lady Highlanders were clinging to a precarious 44 to 40 advantage; and the ball belonged to Washburn. The seven to two onslaught by Washburn had those who had braved the rain and fog driving from Roan Mountain to Sneedville a little uneasy at best.
   Then Jessica McGuire intercepted a pass to the post, raced to the other end of the court and received a pass, posted up and hit a jumper. From that point on the Highlanders managed to hold on to advance to the semi-finals.
   McGuire led the Lady Landers with 11 points, followed by Jessica Lunsford and April Williams with 10 each. Crystal Arnold and Heather Banner added eight points Rebecca Clawson and Kayla Blevins each tallied two.
   "We sure learned something about finishing games," said McGuire.
   "I barely remember the steal or the basket," she said when asked about her remarkable plays on offense and defense in the fourth quarter. "I suppose it might have helped at the time, but one thing's for certain, we have to play much better in the semis."
   Washburn head coach Amanda Kincaid was pleased with the fight-to-the-finish attitude of her players.
   "We lose two seniors, and we'll really miss them, and they know that." she said. "But we're still a young team with good ability, but more importantly they're a very responsive group of ladies."
   Kincaid herself is a Washburn graduate who recently received her degree from Lincoln Memorial University before returning to teach and coach at her alma mater. She was impressed with the talent and aggressiveness of the Lady Highlanders, while crediting her team with a sound effort.
   "I'm actually a little surprised that we were able to run the court with them," she said. "They're a very sound, aggressive ball club. We went up and down the court with them, and hopefully we proved that we can compete with the better teams in our region, but we have to play from the first jump ball until the final whistle."
   Cloudland's Nikki Carrow feels the Lady Highlanders will return to form for the semi-finals.
   "We have to," she said. "We feel that we're as good as the other teams, but we also know that we have to work harder for four quarters. I'm confident in our team. I fully expect we'll come back tomorrow (today) and play very well."
   Cloudland 56
   J. Frank White 31
   Cloudland head coach Ned Smith saw to it that his players didn't repeat the close call in the next game. The Highlanders broke loose in the second quarter and outscored J. Frank White 22-3 in the second quarter to take command.
   When the game was over, Cloudland had used tremendous defensive pressure to stall the JFW offense, while running the floor and taking advantage of some fast break opportunities, prevailing 56-31.
   Aaron Stocton and Robbie Tolley led the Highlanders with 12 points each, followed by Cody Jones with 11. Craig Cooke had seven, followed by three Highlanders - James Miller, Jon Pritchard and Mark Byrd with four points each. Bill Johnson hit two of four free throws to finish with two points.
   "We played good defensively, especially with our press," Coach Smith said. "We played smart for most of the game. It's time to be playing smart, and not take anything for granted, or you go home."
   Byrd said he was "reasonably pleased" with the way the Highlanders are playing, but stated that it won't be easy to advance against Hancock County.
   "Hey, it's their home court," he said, "but we very much want to advance. We'd like to have a Carter County final, and I'm sure Hancock County plans to keep that from happening."
   Stocton reiterated Byrd's and Coach Smith's comments.
   "It's win or go home and not come back," he said. "We know it won't be easy but nothing has really come easy for any of the teams still playing. It's now, it's time to bring the A game, that's for sure."