Lady 'Landers overcome Unicoi County

By Wes Holtsclaw

   "That was our best defensive game thus far."
   Those were the words of head coach Matt Birchfield as his Cloudland Lady Highlander squad came up big Friday night.
   After being picked to lose by an area publication earlier this week, Cloudland battled it out with Unicoi County in a game that went down to the wire with free throws putting the Lady 'Landers over the top in a 53-41 victory in Smith Gymnasium.
   "We were picked to lose, and the girls got fired up and played well," said Birchfield. "Unicoi came out and put us in some mismatches, we got a lot of steals. The defense was just tenacious out of every kid."
   Cloudland battled out to a quick lead over the Lady Devils, with Stachia Johnson connecting for 12 points in the first quarter. Elizabeth Weaver and Hali Sparks contributed well for Unicoi County, as they cut Cloudland to an 18-14 deficit.
   Unicoi bounced back out with a strong second period team effort with some great execution from Elizabeth Weaver and Amber Bailey.
   Laci Hensley came up big on defense with some steals as the Lady Devils took the momentum over Cloudland, however a late bucket from Cloudland freshman Jessica Lunsford allowed Cloudland to tie it at 28 all.
   "Stachia opened it up for us in the first half and got us on a roll," said Birchfield. "I thought that 15 footer from Jess Lunsford was big. They played good defense against us and got that edge, but we came right back."
   Johnson and Tara Hanson cut loose in the third quarter for Cloudland, with good defensive displays from Nikki Webb, Amy Storie, and Holly Blair.
   The defensive period was tough for Unicoi, as they relied on a total team effort. With Cloudland holding a three-point lead going into the final quarter, it was still anyone's game.
   Amber Stevens and Candace Shelton scored Unicoi's only buckets in the period, as Cloudland was forced to the line from the opening play to the final shot.
   Hanson connected on five free throws of Cloudland's 10 in the period, as the Lady Highlanders came away with the victory.
   "Holly (Blair) and Nikki (Webb) came up big for us on defense and didn't let up on them any," Birchfield said.
   Stachia Johnson and Tara Hanson had 17 points a piece for the Lady Highlanders. Elizabeth Weaver led Unicoi County with her 12.
   Said Hanson: "I don't think anybody really expected us to win this game, even people from this school. We worked hard this week and played four good quarters."
   "I think we were mentally ready for the game," said Johnson, who also nailed three treys. "We knew they were going to be very good coming in; I just knew that I had to step up big tonight. I look forward to Daniel Boone on Tuesday."
   "Stachia stepped up and kept us in it," said Hanson, "We played together as a team and as long as we can keep doing that, we can keep getting the wins."
   Unicoi County 50
   Cloudland 46
   Despite leading after the first half, the second half was a challenge to overcome for the Highlanders. After trailing by as many as 11 points, the Highlanders rallied to tie the contest with under two minutes remaining.
   However, a multitude of calls against Cloudland put Unicoi County in a position to come away with the 50-46 victory.
   Turnovers hurt the 'Landers throughout the entire game up front, and it was evident to coach Ned Smith.
   "We've got to cut down on turnovers," said Ned Smith. "When you turn it over out front and give them lay-ups, that has a big effect in the outcome of the game. John (English) does a good job with those guys over there, we've got to keep our heads up and keep improving."
   Unicoi had strong performances from Matt White and Chris Brown the entire contest. White led the contest with 19 points, while Brown chipped in 11. Robbie Tolley led the Highlanders with 12 points and Craig Cooke delivered 10.
   Cloudland hosts Daniel Boone this Tuesday night; JV contests begin at 3:30.