'Landers squeeze past Warriors

By Marvin Birchfield

STAR CORRESPONDENT

   The Cloudland Highlanders captured a victory in the Grindstaff Classic on Saturday by defeating Happy Valley in a 51-43 final.
   It was the ability to hit the long-range jumper and post play from the 'Landers, which enabled them to hold-off a late rally by the Warriors.
   "We were able to finally finish a game, where we had been having trouble in closing out the contest," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith.
   The first quarter of play was at a stand still by end, as both teams swapped the lead a total of six times with a 10-10 tie in the contest.
   Tim Whaley grabbed the opening score for the Warriors, but Josh Johnson answered with a three-point goal to give the 'Landers an early lead.
   With under a minute to go in the first quarter, the 'Landers tied the contest after trailing by two-points with a 15-foot jumper from Aaron Stockton.
   Cloudland came out to grab the first points of the second quarter, as Robbie Tolley hit a shot inside the paint to give the 'Landers a 14-10 advantage.
   "We hit the outside shot, and I thought we did a good job of getting the ball down to our post players," said Smith.
   The Warriors answered by hitting a three-point goal coming from Ryan Toney, and a 15-foot jumper by Jordy Harrison gave the lead back to Happy Valley.
   This was about the extinct of the Warriors outside game for the remainder, but the 'Landers stepped up by knocking down four three-point goals during the second period.
   "We got out-shot by them, and we don't have anybody who can hit the long-range jumper," said Happy Valley coach Charlie Bayless.
   Mark Byrd and Cole Gouge hit a couple of three's apiece to give the 'Landers the lead before the half, and a rebound and put back from Tolley gave Cloudland a 32-26 advantage at the break.
   Cloudland took control in the third quarter, as they allowed Happy Valley just six-points total, which gave a 45-32 lead heading into the final period.
   "We didn't run the break like we needed to, and when we score it seems like it's real tough for us to do," said Bayless.
   Two free-throws from Johnson scored the opening points of the second-half, and a basket inside from Tolley stretched the Cloudland lead.
   Harrison was about all the offense the Warriors had in the third quarter, as he score five of their six-points and finished with 20 total to lead Happy Valley.
   The 'Landers seemed to have everything going their way after a nice under-handed lay-up from Byrd, but a late flurry by the Warriors gave them a last chance opportunity.
   "I just made a cut toward the basket and Gouge hit me with a nice pass on the play," said Byrd.
   Happy Valley went on an 11-2 run in the first four minutes of the final period with Andrew Bowman hitting a three to close the gap to 47-43.
   The Warriors offense sputtered from then on, as they were unable to hit from the outside.
   A couple of field-goals inside from Tolley sealed the victory, as he finished with 18 points on the night to lead the 'Lander offense.
   "Tolley did a great job for us underneath I thought, and we had several people come off the bench and play good," said Byrd.
   Unaka 78
   North Greene 58
   The Rangers were one-step quicker and one-man too deep for North Greene to keep pace, as Unaka won to take fifth place in the Grindstaff Classic.
   The full-court press from the Rangers was a definite factor in the disposal of the Huskies, but coach Donald Ensor feels like there is still a lot improvement needed on defense yet.
   "Even though the score might not resemble it, our defensive effort is still not up to my standards," Ensor.
   Unaka opened up with a 7-1 run to start the game, after Josh Jones converted down-low a couple of times and Rusty Chambers nailed a three-pointer.
   The Rangers built a 16-5 advantage, when Derek Cline made a steal and lay-up, but a three-point shot from Dustin Collins with five seconds left trimmed the lead to eight at the end of the first.
   Unaka went up by as many as 13 points, when Jones sank two-free-throws from the line, but a 10-2 run from North Greene closed the deficit to five with under a minute left in the half.
   "We not following assignments like we should on defense, and we had a lot of easy lay-ups that we blew, which needs to be corrected," said Ensor.
   Chambers hit a three with the first-half coming to a close, which the Rangers a 34-26 lead heading into the locker room.
   The Rangers came out in the second-half to convert on back to back three-point plays, when Chambers made a steal and basket plus drawing a foul.
   Another three-point play from Chambers came, when he made a spin move to hit a shot and draw a foul from Matthew Burns.
   Unaka enjoyed a 52-36 advantage by the end of the third period, with Cody Collins knocking down a 15-foot jumper with three seconds left.
   It was the 'Josh Jones Show' in the final quarter of play for Unaka, as he exploded to scoring 15 points in the period and finished with a game-high 30.
   "I guess I was in the right place at the right time on most of them scores, and fortunately my teammates were able to hit me with the pass," said Jones.
   The Huskies received some offense from Burns who poured in 20 points, and North Greene was able to cut the lead to under ten with three minutes left after Tyrone Miller hit two free-throws.
   But some key steals from the Rangers defense and easy baskets from the big-man Jones kept Unaka well ahead in the final two minutes.
   "We're still going to keep on working hard in practice, and continue to try to improve on getting better," said Jones.