Vikings drop Highlanders, 67-52

Photo by Erica Yoon
Cloudland’s Cody Jones tries to defend while Avery’s Tim Calloway looks to make a move around him.

  NEWLAND--The Cloudland Highlander boys' basketball team fell 67-52 to the Avery County Vikings in first-round action in the 15th annual Golden Corral Prep Classic at Avery County High School in Newland, NC Tuesday night.
  Avery County jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the game, as star Ricky Spradling showed his defensive skills by stealing two Cloudland passes at midcourt that the Vikings turned into early points on their end of the court.
  When the Vikings stretched their lead to 17-8 with just under three minutes left in the quarter, Highlander John Pritchard converted a three-point play to narrow the lead to six points at 17-11.
  Seven different Vikings cracked the scoring column in the first eight minutes as they took a 22-13 lead into the second quarter.
  Pritchard battled for seven first quarter points to keep his team in the game to that point.
  Cloudland started to heat up from the outside in the second quarter, as Jake Hughes and tournament 3-point contest champ Dustin Calhoun connected on two NBA range three-pointers to lead the 'Landers to an 11-11 draw with Avery for the period.
  The teams went to the halftime locker room with the homestanding Vikings up by a 33-24 score.
  The Highlanders came out of intermission trying to scratch their way back into the game, with Cody Hughes hitting from beyond the arc 40 seconds into the quarter to draw first blood in the second half to make it 33-27.
  Pritchard came back a minute later with a power move under the bucket, and the Highlanders had trimmed the Viking lead to four points at 33-29.
  The two teams swapped buckets for the next couple minutes, and then foul shooting problems struck the 'Landers.
  While Avery was scoring inside with Tim Calloway and Daniel Trivette making their presence felt in the paint, Cloudland failed to capitalize from the charity stripe.
  Avery went on a 10-4 run while Cloudland hit just two of five chances at the line, and the quarter ended with the Vikes up 49-37 heading into the final period.
  Spradling, Avery County's leading scorer this season, had been relatively quiet on the offensive end until the last eight minutes of play, when a sense of urgency seemed to overtake the 6-2 senior leader.
  Spradling stole the ball twice in just over a minute, getting fouled once and converting a free throw, and completing a three-point play seconds later to put his team up by a comfortable 53-37 margin with 6:42 left to play.
  Cloudland got another long 3-pointer from Jake Hughes and an inside bucket from Cody Hughes as the 'Landers tried to hang on, but both scores were answered by Avery County's Trivette, who banged his way inside for two more scores.
  The Highlanders trailed 57-42 with 5:11 left when 6-3 senior post Pritchard fouled out trying to keep the relentless Vikings off the offensive boards.
  Pritchard, who played a terrific game for the 'Landers on both ends of the court, finished with 11 points and a bushel full of rebounds.
  The Vikings pounded the boards, getting extra looks for their efforts throughout the last period of play.
  When they weren't scoring on stickbacks, they were earning trips to the line, hitting seven of 11 free throws for the period, including five of six in the last four minutes of play to push their lead to 67-49 with 1:27 left to play.
  Reserves from both teams finished up the night's action, and big Highlander freshman post Brett Stocton stepped up to stick in four points before the game ended with the Vikings on top by the final of 67-52.
  Three players reached double figures in the game for the Vikings, led by Spradling's 14. Two sophomores, the 6-2 Calloway and 6' Jerry Kidd tossed in 11 apiece.
  Pritchard and Cody Hughes led Cloudland with 11 each, and 5-9 guard Adam Stevens, though he didn't score, contributed with four steals and a tough defensive effort.
  Cloudland hit only 50 percent from the foul line on seven of fourteen shooting, but did convert on five three-pointers for the contest.
  Avery County fared better from the line, converting on 14 of 20 freebies for 70 percent, and hit three shots from beyond the arc.
  The Vikings evened up their season record at 6-6 on the season and advance to play Union Pines, 58-57 winners over Johnson County, in a 9 p.m. game tonight.
  Coach Ned Smith's Highlanders drop to 4-7 with the loss and will take on old foe Johnson County in a 3 p.m. matchup.s