Lady Jr. 'Landers settle for second

Photo by Kristen Luther
Shellie McKinney goes up for two Lady Highlander points.

  JOHNSON CITY--The Cloudland Lady Highlanders faced off with the Science Hill Lady 'Toppers in a classic defensive struggle for the girls championship of the Sweet Sixteen Middle School Shootout tournament Wednesday night.
  The gallant 'Landers staged a fourth-quarter rally, but fell short to the 'Toppers by a final score of 23-18 at Freedom Hall.
  Cloudland could never recover after finding itself down 17-6 at the end of a first half marked by missed free-throw opportunities by the Highlanders and an eight-point performance by Topper star Johneshia Good.
  "The Good girl made some big shots for them early," observed Cloudland coach Randy Birchfield. "She got them off to a good start, and after that it was a defensive battle."
  And a battle it was -- Science Hill held the 'Landers to six points in the first half, and Cloudland held the 'Toppers to six in the second half, but still couldn't muster enough offense to overcome the early deficit.
  Science Hill led 11-4 at the end of one, and 17-6 at the half partially because the Highlanders failed to convert any of their six free-throw opportunities in the first two periods, and just two of 11 in the entire game.
  "All the girls played hard for 24 minutes," said Birchfield, "but it's tough to win shooting two for 11, even if you do play hard."
  Cloudland outscored Science Hill 6-5 after intermission to enter the fourth trailing by a 22-12 margin.
  Highlander post Shellie McKinney went to work on both ends of the court to try to rally her team.
  After a Good foul shot upped the score to 23-12, McKinney scored on two power moves inside to cut the score to 23-16.
  McKinney was fouled with 1:48 left and converted one of chances from the line to make it 23-17.
  Both teams committed turnovers in the next minute-and-a-half before Brooke Hughes hit a free throw to close out the scoring with Science Hill on top 23-18.
  McKinney led the Highlanders with seven points, Hughes tossed in five, Jordi Miller had four and Brooke Johnson added two in the losing cause. SH's Good led all scorers with 11.
  "I don't know if I've ever seen two teams battle any harder from start to finish," said Birchfield. "Somebody had to win and somebody had to lose, and the free throw line probably was the difference as far as the offense was concerned."
  Science Hill head coach Scott Whaley offered similar observations: "It was just a defensive struggle between two good teams that both played hard. We held them to six in the first half, and they held us to six in the second."
  "Coach Birchfield does a good job," he continued. "He has some good kids, some tough kids. It was just a good, clean hard-fought battle, and it's a tribute to our kids that they hung in there and won."
  Tournament coordinator Todd Barnett expressed his enjoyment of the game: "There was a lot of excitement, a lot of intensity, and two teams going at each other. Neither team has anything to be ashamed of -- they both played hard. It was a great game."
  Barnett, who is assistant principal at Science Hill Middle School, has roots in Roan Mountain.
  When asked about any mixed feelings, Barnett smiled: "I was gonna win either way. I grew up on Roan Mountain, played ball and coached there, and work here now."
  "We're gonna have a third annual (tourney) next year," Barnett promised.
  Cloudland, whose record is 12-2, will return to action after the holiday's with a home date with Unicoi.
  The Unaka Rangers used double-digit scoring from three starters and tough defense from its entire roster to manhandle Science Hill No. 2 by a score a 53-28 to claim third-place in the boys' bracket.
  Adam Colbaugh led all scorers with 19 points, followed by Jeff Peters with 16 and Michael Bowers with 10 for the Rangers. Peters is now just 40 points shy of 1,500 for his career at Unaka.
  The stingy Unaka defense held SH scoreless for the entire first quarter, jumping out to a 10-0 lead after one.
  Nine minutes elapsed before Jeremiah Greenlee finally put the 'Toppers in the board with 2:56 left in the second period with Unaka up 17-0. The halftime score was 23-11.
  Bowers had a big third quarter for the Rangers, scoring eight in that frame to put the Stoney Creek kids up 39-19 heading into the fourth.
  Colbaugh and Peters combined for 12 points in the first three minutes of the last quarter, and each converted 3-point plays, before coach Mark Revis turned the game over to his bench.
  "I've been on Adam to score more," said Revis, "and he did. We've been standing around waiting for Jeff to do everything, and we've needed other people to step up and score."
  Unaka ups its record to 15-2 with the win.
  The T.A. Dugger girls scored six points in the last :30 of the second quarter to take a 16-15 halftime lead on Greeneville, but a big third quarter by the Greene Devils dashed Cyclone hopes of taking home the third-place trophy.
  Trailing 15-10 with 30 seconds left in the first half, Cyclone Taylor Bellessa canned a 3-pointer and was fouled. She converted the free throw to complete a rare four-point play.
  Teammate Kelly Aubrey then hit a sensational runner in traffic to give her team the halftime lead, but Greeneville stormed back with a 14-2 third quarter behind two Jeana Medlin 3-pointers to go up 29-18 heading into the fourth.
  Despite hitting just one of six foul shots in the last six minutes, the Devils held on defeat the Cyclones by the final of 37-28.
  Mariah Pietrowski played a great game for TAD, scoring 12 points and ruling the boards as she outplayed Greeneville's big post Nicole Dickson. Bellessa added two 3-pointers and nine points.
  Dickson and Jeana Medlin, who hit three 3-pointers, led Greeneville with nine each.
  The Happy Valley Lady Warriors captured seventh-place with a tremendous second half defensive effort to defeat the Lady Tigers of Blountville 27-23.
  With his team down 19-8 at the half, Warrior coach Dana Hill made some defensive adjustments in the locker room to slow down the Tigers' Whitney Hobbs, who had 10 first half points.
  "I put Nichole (Hardin) on Moody," said Hill. "She really did a good job of shutting her down."
  HV limited Blountville to just one field goal in each of the final two quarters while scoring 19 points of their own to win the game.
  Courtney Byers led the Lady Warriors with seven, and Hardin and Summer Ward tossed in five each. Moody finished with 10 and teammate Breean Sabo added eight for the Tigers.
  Down 23-12 heading into the final quarter, coach Rik Anderson's Happy Valley boys staged a tough comeback but fell short in their fifth-place contest with talented Ross Robinson, losing 32-25.
  The Warriors, led by Logan Bowling, outscored Robinson 13-9 in the last six minutes, but it was too little too late for the HV boys.
  Justin Sylvester led Robinson with 15 points, and Bowling finished with 10 for the Warriors.
  In the last game of the tournament, Science Hill (No. 1) defeated John Sevier 39-32 to capture the boys' bracket championship.
  Spencer Bradley led SH with 11 and Chris Smith added 10. Sevier was led by Michael Willis and Matt Osborne with 10 points each.