Field Narrowed Down After Opening Night

By Wes Holtsclaw

STAR CORRESPONDENT

   The opening night of the Grindstaff's Holiday Classic was pretty much what was expected, to an extent.
   The Yellow Jackets from Whitesburg, Kentucky fought off a roaring Cloudland squad after leading by 21 to take an 86-80 victory after a fourth quarter 'scorefest.'
   The Hampton Bulldogs defeated North Greene 62-51 in the night cap, while Brandon Bradley slammed University High to a 63-47 victory over Happy Valley. And Unicoi County topped Unaka 66-55 in the opener.
   Whitesburg, KY 86
   Cloudland 80
   The Jackets stung early, then the 'Landers fell gracefully.
   Leading by 21 at a point during the third quarter, Whitesburg continued a dominant effort of battling inside against Cloudland.
   But the Highlanders battled back behind Josh Johnson and Robbie Tolley; however, it was too late as free throws helped the Yellow Jackets take an 86-80 victory.
   "Cloudland's got a good dedicated ball club," said Whitesburg coach Rick Adams, "They penetrated the wall well and they drove the ball well inside the post. They shot the ball wall outside in the second half."
   "I didn't think we played any defense tonight," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "We didn't quit and our kids stepped up and played in the fourth quarter. When the ball goes up, you've gotta show up and play good defense."
   Strong play from Chris Whitaker and Trevor Buttrey early ousted the blue and gold attack early despite a strong effort from Cloudland's Mark Byrd and Cole Gouge.
   The first and second quarters were basically identical as Whitesburg took two rounds of 18-12 over Cloudland to take a 36-24 lead at the half.
   The Jackets' leading scorer Bo Cook came alive in the third quarter with an array of trey's to lead his squad to the big lead over the Highlanders.
   Then the race was on as Cloudland bounced back late in the third behind Byrd and Craig Cooke. Although, Whitesburg kept holding them off.
   Once the fourth quarter arrived the signs of an offensive display was present throughout VanHuss-White gymnasium and the crowd got their moneys worth.
   Josh Johnson and Robbie Tolley helped Cloudland outscore the Jackets 39-29 in the fourth quarter, but a solid effort from Chase Hogg, James West, and Winston Lee helped Whitesburg hold off the Highlanders.
   "We tried some multiple defenses and it still didn't stop them," Adams said, "They just fought, and we couldn't put them away. This team does not have a lot of playing experience, we're just learning my new system. We're still doing some adjusting."
   A solid effort to open the half by Bo Cook gave the Yellow Jackets the nod throughout the remainder of the game.
   "It was a good experience for us to come down here and win a big game," said Cook. "This team gave a great effort and played good out here. We hope to come back out and do it again tomorrow."
   Cook led the Jackets with 20 points on the evening, while teammates Chris Whittaker and Trevor Buttrey had 14 and 13 respectively.
   Josh Johnson's efforts helped lead Cloudland in the fourth quarter.
   "We played pretty good," said Johnson, who tallied 19 points, "In the second half, we played real good. We just gotta get some people to step up and play, because we're not playing real good right now. We're not playing as a team- we just got to get more help out of our big guys."
   Robbie Tolley added 19 for Cloudland, while Cole Gouge and Mark Byrd totaled 16 and 13 a piece.
   Whitesburg will play Hampton at 7:30 tomorrow evening, while Cloudland plays North Greene at 4:30.
   Said Adams: "It feels good to come down here and get some experience for our tournament back home in March. It looks like Hampton's got the nod down here, they are hosting the tournament and we look forward to playing them."
   "We gotta improve and keep our heads up through the next night," said Smith "It is a three day tournament, and we can only get better."
   University High 63
   Happy Valley 47
   Two words: Brandon Bradley.
   That was all it took for the Junior Bucs of University High to pull an overwhelming victory over Happy Valley in the second game.
   With a close game insuing, Bradley opened on fire with three consecutive inside buckets, then took a permanent lead for his squad with a two-handed slam off of a missed free throw.
   Bradley opened the third and fourth quarters with sidewinding monster jams, before he brought the house to its feet with an earth shattering one handed ally-oop courtesy of John Tillman (11 points) en route to a game leading 20 points.
   "That's my second oop from John," said Bradley of his slam. "It was pretty nice."
   But it was a solid defensive effort, and a display of solid teamwork that gave University High the win.
   "Coach wanted us to come out and play defense," Bradley said, "He said our legs might be tired since we have been off since Saturday night. We got some turnovers and turned them into fast breaks."
   "I thought our defense set the tone tonight," said University High coach Tony Gordon, "We haven't met since Saturday, and we knew we wouldn't shoot the ball as much. But we've counted on our defense to carry us. We're happy to come over here and get a win. Our kids are good at focusing one game at a time and not looking ahead."
   The Warriors fought hard throughout the game behind a returning Tim Whaley (11 points) and Jordy Harrison (10 points). But it wasn't what coach Charlie Bayless wanted from his team.
   "They beat us under the baskets," said Bayless, "They only made one shot outside on us. It looked like a 'Turkey-Shoot.' I like the Bradley kid, he's a pretty good boy. They just killed us inside."
   Happy Valley will meet against Unaka for the second time this season, while University High will face Unicoi County.
   "That'll be a dandy," Bayless said of tomorrow's contest, "It'll be a toss-up. Unaka didn't play good tonight, and we didn't either. Maybe one of us will play better tomorrow night I hope."
   "I'd say they'll be ready," said Gordon of Unicoi County, "We beat them at the buzzer at their place. They do some things that give us some problems, but I've got confidence in my team."
   Hampton 62
   North Greene 51
   The Hampton Bulldogs rallied in the second half after an eight point lead behind strong defense to defeat North Greene in the final contest of the evening.
   Shane Campbell opened the game on fire for the Bulldogs, playing all over the court. North Greene saw some good early play out of Matthew Burns an Dustin Collins to hold Hampton to a four-point advantage after the first period.
   The second quarter presented a tighter game, as Hampton dodged some mistakes to keep a solid lead over the Huskies.
   Josh Moss busted a big three to open the second half, as the Bulldogs rallied to a 14-point advantage. Aaron Spears and Tyrone Miller allowed the Huskies to cut it to five, but it wouldn't last long.
   Adam Miller and Mitchell Morton dominated in the fourth quarter, and it was just what the doctor ordered for the home crowd as the Bulldogs sealed the win.
   Unicoi County 66
   Unaka 55
   The Blue Devils ousted Unaka in the opening contest, shutting down the Rangers offense as Unaka shot 16 of 59 on the evening.
   "The week before Christmas, we had the five best practices we've had all year," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor. "We came in Monday and looked like we did tonight."
   "We're not the caliber team to take a day off even on the practice floor. You're either getting better or getting worse, and we're getting worse. It showed tonight."
   Unicoi led by as much as 17 during the contest, but Unaka rallied back in the second half behind Derek Cline and Rusty Chambers. Chambers had only five points going into the fourth quarter, but pushed in for a game high 22 late.
   "It was a little bit too late," Ensor said, "We've got to realize as a team that it is a 32 minute game. We weren't ready for whatever reason, and they beat us at every facet of the game. You're not going to win many ballgames like we did."
   Unicoi County got double-digit performances out of Josh Hensley (10), Michael Price (11), and Hunter Sparks (14) to lead their offensive efforts.