Cloudland comeback halts Lady Tornadoes

By Wes Holtsclaw

   After being down five points with 51 seconds left, the Cloudland Lady 'Landers (5-2) proved they were just like Coca-Cola. They were "The Real Thing."
   Led a pesky defense Cloudland scored seven of the game's final eight points, including Tara Hanson's game-winning bucket with :02 left, to drop the Alcoa Lady Tornadoes 61-60 on Saturday at Sonny Smith Gymnasium.
   "I'm real happy with their effort," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. "These girls never panicked when they were down, we held up strong and finished with it."
   In what was a tough first half, the Lady 'Landers held strong with a great opening first quarter, taking an early 19-12 lead. Amy Storie scored eight of her 18 points in the period, which featured excellent defense from Hanson and Taukia Hughes.
   The second quarter was all Alcoa (0-3) as the Tornadoes bounced back from a seven-point deficit to take a lead they would keep till the end of the game.
   Koral Stache, who led Alcoa with 16 points, and Sarah Fowler appeared to be the go-to-girls for the Lady Tornadoes as they excelled behind the perimeter with four three-point shots.
   Alcoa would leave the first half with a 5-point lead on the Cloudland team.
   The third quarter would go back and forth, as Holly Blair and Amanda McKinney's play helped the team come within two, as Alcoa attempted to stretch their lead.
   Whitney Anthony and Ellen Johnson would step it up, scoring back-to-back shots for the Lady Tornadoes. Cloudland would not give up, though, as Nikki Webb and Natasha Benfield's defense held Alcoa to a 41-39 lead after three.
   The fourth quarter would be one of the most exciting in Lady 'Lander history.
   "We had it in our minds to come away with it there at the end," said Storie. "We were down at times, but we came back at the end and carried it."
   Alcoa appeared to have the advantage at the beginning of the fourth as a field goal and free throw by Anthony, who ended up with 15, put them back up by five early. However, it was not to be as Benfield and Webb scored back-to-back on the Lady Tornadoes.
   Tough defense inside by Storie and Hughes would pull Cloudland within two with 4:32 left. Luckily for the Lady 'Landers, they picked up an intentional foul on Fowler, which sent Hughes to the line and gave Cloudland another possession.
   Taukia nailed both of her free throws, taking the first Cloudland lead since the first half, and followed up with another score.
   But Alcoa would blaze back, coming up with the defensive plays to get back to the Highlanders taking a 59-54 lead with :51 seconds left.
   Cloudland sped the ball downcourt leading to a foul on Storie, who nailed both of her free throws. Fouler was called for walking, but the 'Landers turned it over again.
   On the next throw by Alcoa, Tara Hanson intercepted it, and scored a three-pointer with :18 seconds left.
   Stache was fouled, but only hit one of her two shots giving Cloudland another possession.
   Cloudland took the ball inside to Amy Storie who was blocked. a pile-up occurred and out came Hanson who sank a shot with :02 seconds left. Fowler would throw it straight to Hanson on the incoming pass and Cloudland took the win 61-60.
   "I'm really proud of the team's effort," said Hanson who led the game with 19 points. "We just never gave up. Last year, we were down many times, we just couldn't come back. This year, we have found the key to win by, and we just did it."
   Alcoa's head coach Mike Brown had little to say after the game.
   "We played good defense," said Coach Brown. "I felt like we stopped some of their inside shots, we just gave up that last crucial rebound. Cloudland hustled a lot, they were a good team. We just feel like we blew it."
   Birchfield was all about praise for his team.
   "Tara stepped up there at the end and hit that shot," he said. "Amy and Taukia made some key shots, especially Hughes with those free throws. I felt they were the turning point of the game, and gave us something to work on."
   Hughes scored 12 points for the Lady 'Landers.
   Cloudland will travel to Harrogate on Monday for a boys and girls doubleheader with J.Frank White.