Cloudland girls advance to 1-A final

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 24, 2014 at 10:22 PM

AFTON — Faced with a 13-point deficit midway through the first quarter, Courtney Wilson and her Cloudland teammates were determined not to let history repeat itself.

Twice during the regular season, the Lady Highlanders had fallen behind by similar margins to South Greene and suffered close defeats. With their season on the line, the Lady ’Landers outscored the Lady Rebels 31-7 over the next two and a half quarters to take a 48-41 victory in the Region 1-A girls’ basketball semifinals at Chuckey-Doak Middle School.

“The first two times we played them, we were down 15 and we battled back, but we lost those games,” said Wilson, who ended with 17 points and nine rebounds. “We knew what was going to happen if we didn’t win this game. We’ve got seven seniors and we weren’t about to lose. We pulled together and knew what we had to do to win.”

Cloudland (30-5) will face North Greene, 39-37 overtime winners over Cosby, in Wednesday’s championship game.

In a game highlighted by big runs, Cloudland had to really gut it out in the end. The Lady ‘Landers were up 37-26 heading into the final period before South Greene went on its own 11-2 run to cut the margin to a single basket.

Cloudland held on despite not hitting a field goal in the fourth quarter. All 11 points were made at the free-throw line.

“It was very physical, but we made free throws when we had to,” Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield said. “They came out with a lot of high-intensity defense on us and we missed a lot of lay-ups early. But, we settled as the game came to us and got back in it. We played the way we needed to play and there were a lot of big shots by (Courtney) Clarke and Wilson down the stretch.”

Clarke, the 5-foot-2 senior point guard whom Birchfield describes as a firecracker, used her high energy game to tally 13 points and six rebounds.

The Lady Rebels (24-10) countered with Peyton Williams, who had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Alora Ricker, who finished with 11 points.

Ricker had back-to-back scores for South Greene before the Lady Rebels were called for a technical for punching the ball with 1:31 left. Down by two, they trailed by five by the time Haley Johnson was finished at the free-throw line.

“I just hate to see that one call,” South Greene coach Stephen Gregg said. “The ref said she slammed the ball down. No words were said and in a game like that, I hate to see a call like that. Cloudland is a great team and I’m not saying that call hurt us, but it took our run away. I wish Cloudland the best of luck down the road and hope they represent the conference well.”

Still, it wasn’t over.

South Greene cut the lead back to two points with 40 seconds left on a basket by Williams. But, Cloudland hung on as Kendall Mull, Johnson and Clarke hit free throws over the final 25 seconds. After it was over, Wilson talked about how both teams knew they were in for a fight.”

“We’re going to have bruises tomorrow,” Wilson said. “They’re tough and we knew we had to play defense or it was going to be bad.”

North Greene 39, Cosby 37, OT

Mendy McNeese drove to the basket and hit a high-arcing floater with 10 seconds left to lift the Lady Huskies (24-10) to an overtime victory over the District 2-A champion Lady Eagles.

“I didn’t expect it to be that wide-open,” said McNeese, an ETSU signee. “Coach drew up the play. They kind of left me so I took an extra dribble and the Lord put it in the hole for us.”

McNeese ended with 18 points, including a pair of tying free throws in regulation. Still, it came down to a couple of stops on the defensive end for North Greene.

Bethanie Williams missed a shot at the end of regulation and another one in overtime for Cosby as North Greene coach James Buchanan opted to go with his man-to-man defense.

“I’ll be honest, we’ve been terrified of our man-to-man defense all year,” Buchanan said. “This group is a little slower than some of our teams in the past and we’ve had a hard time stopping teams with multiple guards who can penetrate. When we got down to the final couple of plays, I was like ‘We’ve run from it all year, but my bread and butter has always been man-to-man defense. We were able to hang in there.”

Lauren Baxter added 10 points for the Lady Huskies in the victory. Dessie Schaffer scored a game-high 21 points to lead Cosby, which ended its season at 20-10.

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