Rangers deck 'Horns
   *
Laurinburg edges Warriors

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF

   Unaka (7-5) used the old 1-2 combination to knock out Johnson County (3-9) by the score of 63-45 in the semifinals of the McClain-Shoun's Invitational Thursday night at Hampton.
   Unaka forward Aaron Dugger landed big hits inside, outside and downfloor for 31 points, while Ben Cole worked the inside to the tune of 17 points and nine rebounds.
   "We're coming around," said Ranger head coach Donald Ensor. "We're playing harder and better defense than the first of the year. Our help people were in real good position all night. Chris Arnold, Josh Blevins, Ben Cole, had a lot to do with that. They stayed in great help position."
   The two teams played even in the early rounds with Unaka only leading 12-10 at the end of the first quarter. However, the Rangers pummeled the Longhorns both inside and outside for the remainder of the contest.
   Dugger was the main culprit through the middle stages. He scored Unaka's last field goal before halftime and the first 12 Ranger points of the second half.
   "That was an embarassment," remarked JC head coach Austin Atwood. "All our kids usually play hard, but tonight nobody but a couple played hard. I'm not even proud of those guys because of all the mistakes.
   "It was a terrible showing. I hate this was a nine o'clock game and people had to wait around and watch this. We have to take care of the basketball and cut down on the mistakes."
   Among the few bright spots for Johnson County included Tommy Short with 12 points, and Michael Lipford, who came off the bench to post 11.
   On the other side, Unaka had plenty to smile about including the shooting of lead bombardeer Dustin Collins, who scored eight for the Rangers.
   The Rangers are now winners of four straight heading into the championship matchup against Laurinburg, NC.
  
   Laurinburg, NC 56, Happy Valley 51
   Christano Johnson's two-fisted jam with 15 seconds left, ended an upset bid by Happy Valley (1-7) against the undefeated Tigers (4-0).
   The end result could not dampen the enthusiasm of the Warriors, who led the taller, more athletic Laurinburg team 19-17 at the end of one quarter and 33-26 at halftime. Happy Valley gained success by effectively breaking the Laurinburg press and making their first 15 free throw attempts.
   "I thought we handled the press pretty good until we got tired," said Happy Valley head coach Charlie Bayless. "We missed two or three crucial passes. Overall, I thought we broke that press real good and that's the best we've shot at the free throw line."
   Chris Campbell was the offensive leader for HV, scoring 22 points and grabbing 7 boards. "It gives us real good confidence that we could play with them," said Campbell. "I told the boys before the game to play hard and play hard defense. We've been struggling, but we came out and played better than what we have been.
   "Hopefully, this will turn our season back around. I've been struggling all season. I couldn't shoot or do nothing. These last two games have surprised me real well. I never had shot real well up here (at Hampton). We did a good job rebounding, boxing them out and having them go over our backs and having fouls called."
   Said Tiger head coach Kenneth Gordon. "We had a better effort than last game (a 80-77 win over Hampton). We had to play against a good ball player in Campbell. I didn't know he was quite that good. We tried everything - the box and man, we tried pressing.
   "They put somebody in the middle and our guys on the outside weren't getting to the middle. It made us go to the 1-3-1 trap. We work on defense a lot. We try to overload as our game is based around defense."
   Laurinburg used a ten-man rotation to help wear down the Warriors. Troy Mathis hit five shots behind the three-point arc to score a team-high 19 points. However, the most damage came in the form of Montea Hinton, who scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and altered several shots on the defensive end.
   If those two weren't enough, the athletic Johnson thrilled the crowd with a two-fisted jam in the third quarter that served as a prelude to the grand finale.
   Happy Valley had plenty of great efforts as well. Cody Cannon, Andy Hilton and Tim Whaley all put forth herculean efforts against the larger Tiger post players, while Lamar Rollins and Jason Tittle did a good job controlling the tempo.
   "If we play this type of ball like we did tonight, we'll be alright," stated Bayless. "We can win some games in the conference if it's like tonight."
   Happy Valley will get the chance for better results tonight. HV now plays Johnson County in the McClain-Shoun's consolation game that's a rematch of a 51-48 Watuaga Conference win the 'Horns took nine days ago atop Warrior Hill.