'Landers tops High Country


Photo by Erica Yoon
Cloudland’s Heather Banner looks to pass the ball out as Mann’s Sharniece Wadelington tries to prevent her from coming in the lane. Cloudland won the championship game, 43-41.

 
  
  BANNER ELK, N.C.--The Lady 'Landers were riding high on Wednesday after becoming the 2004 champions of the 5th Annual High Country Prep Classic at Lee's McRae College.
  Cloudland held-off a late rally from J.J. Mann of Greeneville, S.C. to avenge last year's championship loss in a 43-41 final.
  "The thing was, we did it quarter by quarter, and we stepped up and played big throughout the game," said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield.
  The 'Landers went 3-0 throughout the week with junior guard Jessica Lunsford being named the tournament's MVP.
  Lunsford finished with 13 points and eight rebounds on the evening, while Heather Banner added 12 points and 12 boards to be named to the All-Tournament team.
  "We've not been very consistent, for we'll win a big game and then lose a game we shouldn't, but this is a big step for us" said Lunsford. "We've not had a good season or gotten off to a great start, but hopefully we can pick it up and be more consistent."
  The 'Landers came out battling to a 10-10 tie at the end of the first period.
  Lunsford led the way by dumping in six first-quarter points, along with Jessica Ledford and Jessica Mathies who added a bucket apiece.
  Banner started getting on track offensively during the second period by knocking down a three pointer along with a field goal.
  Several baskets by Mathies kept the 'Landers right in stride with the Patriots, who were trying to defend their tournament title.
  The Lady Patriots was finding the mark beyond the three-point line, as they converted three treys in the second period to take a 27-25 lead at half-time.
  Cloudland came out grabbing the momentum during the third quarter by shutting down J.J. Mann on offense and holding them to three points for the period.
  Another three from Banner along with a couple of baskets from the inside by Kayla Blevins give the 'Landers a 34-30 lead heading into the final period.
  Cloudland executed their offense early on to build a 40-32 advantage halfway through the fourth.
  The ability to make the right pass and find the opening off the pressure being applied from the Patriots front-court enabled the 'Landers to gain control.
  "We've done a lot better than what we have early in the season, for we've had trouble with any kind of half-court press," said Lunsford. "Everybody did a good job of handling the ball for they're a defensive type team."
  J.J. Mann cut the deficit in half with 1:43 left after a basket inside from Trevonne Williams and a back door cut by Sharniece Wadelington.
  "We had spurts where we took the lead, and then they had spurts where they came back and played well, for they're a good ball club," said Birchfield. "We put the whole game together though and that was what we were looking for."
  A drive by Lunsford and dish to Ledford pushed the advantage back to six but the Patriots came right back with a three-point play coming from Williams.
  Beverly Jeter made a steal and lay-up as J.J. Mann trailed by a basket with :22 seconds left, and a couple of missed opportunities at the free-throw line give the Patriots a chance to tie or go ahead in the final seconds.
  After a couple of missed attempts by the Patriots, Banner came away with a huge defensive rebound and seal the victory for Cloudland.
  "At first we didn't rebound good, but against the athletes they had, I thought we did a pretty good job," said Birchfield. "This gives them some momentum and the confidence in believing they can win down the road during tournament time."