Highlanders spill Blue Devils

By Michelle Pope

   ERWIN--The Highlander boys bounded strongly onto the court in their first game of the season, using long, swift passes and well-placed three-pointers to knock aside Unicoi County on their home court.
   Mark Byrd handled the ball like a pro for the Cloudland, while Craig Cook put up some big points late in the game to overtake the Devils' mid-game lead.
   Strong scoring from Meghan Headley and Elizabeth Weaver spurred the Lady Devils to a 46-27 win over the Cloudland girls. The Lady Devils scored consistently all four quarters, taking advantage of an early start to beat Cloudland. Jessica Lunsford led the Lady Highlanders in scoring with nine points.
   Cloudland 52
   Unicoi County 43
   After playing only their teammates during practice, the Highlander squad certainly made a lasting first impression on Unicoi County. Jake Hughes promptly sank a three-point shot, followed by two more from Cook. After a steal and a layup from Cody Jones, and a field goal from an inbound pass by Robbie Tolley, Cloudland had taken a 13-8 lead, leaving the Devils scratching their heads as they pondered a way to stop the drive.
   Apparently, inspiration struck in the second quarter, as Unicoi scored seventeen points against Cloudland's six, with the help of two three-pointers that rolled off the fingers of Ryan Corn. "We did hit a pretty good stretch there, made some shots and defensively, we rebounded well in the first half," said Devil coach Jon English.
   Coming into his team's first game of the season, Cloudland coach Ned Smith didn't expect a perfect game from his Highlanders. "I thought we were really jittery and really nervous the first half," Smith said. "It was our first game, and we kind of expected it. We walked a lot with it, and it was ricocheting everywhere."
   After the half, Jones took a Byrd pass for a three-pointer. Tolley dropped four points in the basket, Aaron Stocton scored off a Byrd drive, and Hughes put up a rebound to put Cloudland within a two-point reach of the Devils.
   "The second half, we kind of settled down and played a little bit; started blocking, made a few shots," Smith said. "We went inside with the post game, and it turned out OK. We did a little trapping, pressed a little bit, and just got after them."
   Hughes opened the fourth quarter with the three-pointer that overtook Unicoi. After Derek Hess took a diving shot that went through the net to take the lead back, the ball was turned back over to Cloudland. Byrd, Hughes, and Cook passed the ball around the arch until Cook went for a three and made it, and followed through with another three-point goal only seconds later.
   "I thought Cloudland completely outplayed us. We had a ten-point lead somewhere in the third quarter, and from that point on, they outplayed us on both ends of the floor," said English. "Defensively, they did a good job. Offensively, they hit some big three's, some backbreaking three's, made some real timely shots, and then once they got the lead, they didn't really do anything to give it up."
   Unicoi drew within three points of Cloudland again with a minute left in the game, but repetitive fouls gave the Highlanders a chance to cushion their lead with free throws.
   "I give them a lot of credit," English said. "Ned does a great job up there. They've got a really solid team, and they're going to have a lot of success this year. They made all the timely shots; three's, free throws, big rebounds, whatever they needed."
   Unicoi County 46
   Cloudland 27
   The Lady Devils took an early lead and didn't let go against their game with Cloudland. Lunsford broke out strongly in the first, scoring two field goals and a free throw. Two foul shots that fell for Kayla Blevins gave Cloudland seven points going into the second quarter. The Lady Devils led by only three points.
   However, the Lady Landers took a damaging turn and were unable to snatch the lead before the half. A Lunsford goal and a basket from Jessica McGuire were the only points Cloudland's side of the scoreboard saw in the second quarter. Unicoi County continued their steady scoring, with two goals from Amber Stevens, and a team effort that put the Lady Devils in a 20-13 lead.
   "I thought early, we played really well," said Cloudland girls coach Matt Birchfield. "We kind of hung around there, made the game." But the Lady 'Landers couldn't hang on for long. "I thought we made a lot of turnovers," he added. "They got the lead on us. We kind of beat ourselves at times, and inside, they hurt us. Forty (Weaver) is a great player for them, and they kind of pushed us around the inside."
   Cloudland had a better third quarter, almost matching Unicoi's ten points with nine of their own. Headley had a strong quarter for the Lady Devils, putting in six points. For Cloudland McGuire hit a long shot and put up a rebound.
   Weaver pushed the Lady Devils over the brink in the fourth. Scoring five free throws and two field goals, she was influential in the sixteen points that Unicoi used to win the game. Despite efforts from Heather Banner and Jessica Ledford, the Lady 'Landers fell to the Devils.
   Birchfield credited the Lady Devil team's skill for the win. "Their defense inside is really good, and they play really good man-to-man, and we've got to get more shots in."