Lady Jr. 'Landers down Hunter for first-place honors

By Wes Holtsclaw

STAR CORRESPONDENT

   Just like the namesake, the Highlander Basketball Jr. High Christmas Tournament belonged to the Cloudland Jr. Lady Highlanders, as they knocked off the Hunter Lady Tigers 58-29 Friday night.
   "We had an awesome team game tonight," said Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford. "We had Hunter in foul trouble early, and Jess (Lunsford) played awesome. Jessica Ledford and Keisha Miller stepped up and played well, and so did Daranda Byrd. We had to have some help and we did."
   The game started out close as Hunter's Jordan Muratore and Cloudland's Natasha Miller traded shots to open it up. But it became all Cloudland, as Muratore got in early foul trouble, allowing Cloudland to take advantage of the inside game and take a 19-6 lead after the first quarter.
   Hunter came back in the second quarter and made a comeback of sorts on the 'Landers. Led by Logan Wagonseller, who scored six of her team-leading eight points in the quarter to pull in the game, closing the Cloudland lead to 12.
   It appeared as Hunter gained its momentum as the half came to an end, but once the second half got rolling for Cloudland, there would be no stopping them.
   As Jessica Lunsford played heavily on both sides of the ball, with a tough supporting cast of Whitney Houston, Heather Banner, and Jessica Ledford to stall the Hunter drive.
   It was a show of good defense and fundamentals early in the second half, as Cloudland drug out a tough lead that would be hard to come back on.
   Cloudland's defense held Hunter to only nine second half points, while the Lady 'Landers came on strong. Hunter's Danielle Buck and Sallee Taylor put forth an extraordinary effort, but the Lady Landers were too much.
   The game became more of a Œfan fest, at the end with several people stalling the game at points. The unsportsmanship between some of the parents became a little too much, but the game ended quietly as both teams exhibited good model behavior as they did throughout the game.
   Nevertheless, Lunsford would nail everything she threw up in the second half to end with a game-high 23 points, giving Cloudland the 58-29 edge over Hunter.
   "It got rough out there at the end," said Hunter coach Tammy Taylor. "Cloudland has a good team, they played hard and we played hard. These girls gave 100 percent and I am proud of them. Danielle Buck played outstanding tonight, coming off the bench against those bigger girls."
   Coach Taylor believed the tournament would help her team in the long run.
   "I believe this tournament helped us become more prepared for the end of the year," she said. "It can have its advantages, hopefully they will work out."
   Third Place Game
   T.A. Dugger (7th) - 44
   Happy Valley - 37
   When it comes to basketball, scoring early can really help a team in the long run. Friday night against the T.A. Dugger 7th grade squad, the Happy Valley Lady Warriors were stalled early, allowing T.A. Dugger to pull out a 44-37 win for third place in the Cloudland invitational.
   "I told them yesterday that good teams come back with a vengeance after a loss," said T.A. Dugger coach Doug Fritz. "These girls came out here tonight and played with so much effort. They shot the ball well, made key and clutch plays."
   The game opened with huge plays by T.A. Dugger, stalling an impressive Happy Valley defense, and playing aggressively.
   Victoria Hopson and Brianne Gouge got things going early for the Lady Cyclones, who took a 12-5 lead after the first quarter.
   The crew played impressively again in the second quarter, but it was Hopson who made the biggest dent in Sonny Smith Gymnasium. Nailing shot after shot, Hopson scored 15 of her game-high 22 points in the second quarter.
   Happy Valley didn,t give up too easily, as great handling by Amber Duncan and play by Randi Williams gave them the boost they needed to enter the second half.
   And Happy Valley came strong, pulling within as much as six at one point in the third, but it was Tia Nave,s three pointer at the buzzer that silenced Happy Valley.
   "I honestly believe that Tia Nave's three pointer in the third quarter was the biggest shot of the game. It was a big lift for us emotionally and gave us a 10-point lead."
   T.A. Dugger would charge from there on out, and seal up a 44-37 win over the always tough Happy Valley.
   "They are as good as some of the best 8th-grade teams out around," said Lady Warrior coach Dana Hill. "They have a good coach. They are scrappy, they get after you."
   "We came out tonight and played very tired. If we can't press and get points off of it, we are in trouble. That was apparent tonight."
   For the most part, the performance by the 7th grade T.A. Dugger team was amazing in an 8th grade tournament.
   Said Fritz: "For our 7th-grade team to finish third in an 8th-grade tournament is awesome. It just says how good they really are. I am at a loss for words at how proud I am of them."
   Consolation Game:
   T.A. Dugger 41
   Johnson County 28
   In the first game of the evening, T.A. Dugger bounced back after a struggling time handling Johnson County,s stunning 7th grader April McCloud, to take an impressive 41-28 win in the consolation round.
   Despite McCloud's impressive defensive performance, it was a long night for Johnson County, despite holding T.A. Dugger to a three point lead after the first half.
   Again for the Lady Cyclones, Takesha Avery was the one to go too. Blasting in six of her game high 12 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away for the Cyclones.
   Megan Johnson, Eden Treadway, and Laura Bowman also had impressive nights defensively and offensively for T.A. Dugger.
   McCloud led Johnson County with 11 points in the game.