Rangers lose holiday final

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff

   The final four of the McClain's-Shoun's Invitational produced a pair of interesting contests Friday night, as the final basketball before the Christmas holiday offered up some nice gifts for the fans.
   In the nightcap the Unaka Rangers took on the Laurinburg Tigers for the championship of the tournament, with the Tigers claiming a 63-49 decision.
   After the contest, Ranger head coach Donald Ensor was not upset with his team's play.
   "They defended us well, we didn't keep our composure and it hurt us," Ensor said.
   The first quarter was unkind to the Rangers.
   With just under three minutes left in the first period, the Tigers led 17-8 and looked as if they would run away with it.
   The Rangers were trailing by nine at the start of the second quarter and despite some solid foul shooting by Aaron Dugger could not pull close in the second stanza.
   Behind by 16 points at the half, the Rangers looked to improve both the shooting and rebounding in order to pull even in the second half. The third quarter would see dramatic improvement for the Rangers as a comeback was en route.
   The third quarter was a much better period for the Rangers. Outscoring the Tigers by six in the period, Dustin Collins and Rusty Chambers hit a pair of big threes to give Unaka hope going into the fourth quarter.
   The 10-point deficit would soon be increased however as strong shooting from the Tigers' T.J. Mathis helped quell the Ranger uprising. Dugger's 28-point effort went unnoticed as the Tigers took home the championship by a 14-point margin.
   "We were glad to play for the championship, but we wanted to win of course," Ensor said.
   Happy Valley 50
   Johnson County 43
   In the first contest of the evening, the Cinderellas met for the third-place matchup as the Happy Valley Warriors squared off against the Longhorns of Johnson County in a battle for respect.
   The first period was dominated by post play. Both teams were taking high percentage shots, and playing well offensively. Despite the offensive progress neither team played solid defense in the first quarter.
   Warrior skipper Charlie Bayless was pleased with his team's effort.
   "We played pretty good," said Bayless. "We're playing better ball. These kids are experienced, so we should continue to improve."
   Chris Campbell posted eight points in the first period while Johnson County spread the wealth to four different individuals. Trailing by four heading into the second period, the Longhorns stepped it up to pull within one heading to the half.
   Strong shooting from Zac Trivette and Judd Shoun paced the Longhorns in the second quarter. Johnson County hit six unanswered points at the start of the second period, then both teams leveled off a bit as Happy Valley clung to a 1-point lead heading to the half.
   The second half saw a third-quarter explosion for the Warriors as Cody Cannon went off the hook. Posting 10 points in the period while playing solid defense, Cannon led the Warriors to a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
   Both teams fell flat in the final stanza, with the teams combined for a mere 13 points in the fourth quarter.
   Both teams played aggressively on defense and could not find a rhythm offensively.
   After making a small comeback bid, the Longhorns fell short as the Warriors took home third place by seven points.
   After the contest Longhorn coach Austin Atwood was displeased with his club.
   "We didn't play hard," said Atwood. "We're going to have to work on depth and the transition game."