Unaka rallied from a seven-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to beat the Cloudland Lady Highlanders 40-36 in the Region 1-A girls basketball tournament finals on Wednesday night inside Bobby Snyder Gymnasium at Daniel Boone High School.
Lexi Garland led the way for Unaka with 15 points and was named tournament Most Valuable Player. Stacia Wilson spearheaded the attack for Cloudland with 12 points.
Sarah Tipton hit a 3-pointer with 3:25 left in the game to give Unaka its first lead at 33-32. The Lady Rangers iced the game down the stretch by making free throws. Cloudland scored just five points in the final quarter.
“We started to get some movement in the foul line area in the fourth quarter and that’s what got us going,” Unaka coach Kenneth Compton said. “We tried to go inside out. I was proud of both of our teams and our county. We all played a little nervous at times, but they played hard. It’s been a while since we had a home substate game, so it will be exciting.”
“They solved us at the end. They played hard and we just got tired at the end,” Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford said. “We want to go to the state tournament, so we just have to put this one behind us and move on. We’re young, too. We have eight freshman and no seniors.
A physical, defensive game was brewing from the start and both teams were trying to take the ball away from each other in the early going. There were a total of four jump balls in the first quarter.
Cloudland built a 12-6 lead over the Lady Rangers (26-10) with scrappy full-court pressure and quickness.
PUSHING THE PACE
The Lady ’Landers (22-12) put the pedal down in the second quarter and were bothering Unaka by pushing the ball up the court off of missed shots.
Megan Lunsford, Jasmine and Kenzie Birchfield were out-hustling the guards from Unaka and Stacia Wilson was holding Myah Parlier on the defensive end for Cloudland.
Even though the turnovers were mounting for both teams, Cloudland led 24-15 at the intermission.
UNAKA GETS CLOSE
The Cloudland offense started sputtering in late in the third quarter and Unaka started hitting on all cylinders with Lexie Garland and Erica Potter hitting shots in three consecutive possessions.
The Lady Rangers shot back into the game and cut the Cloudland lead to four points at one time. Cloudland was able to maintain control and have a seven point lead going into the fourth at 31-24.
Unaka will play host to Region 2 runner-up Tellico Plains while Cloudland will travel to champion Wartburg on Saturday. Tip times are 7 p.m.