ROAN MOUNTAIN — If effort could be converted into electricity, Hampton and Cloudland could have lit up most of Northeast Tennessee on Friday night.
The two rivals went all out for 32 minutes, and then needed eight more to settle the issue. At the end of the almost epic double-overtime struggle, Cloudland overcame Stanley Valentine’s Herculean effort and the Highlanders were the last men standing in an 84-80 victory at Sonny Smith Gym.
“Our effort was off the charts,” said Cloudland head coach Brandon Carpenter. “Hampton is good and their size bothers us, but the kids put forth extra effort in a tough battle.”
Cloudland had to settle for a share of the Watauga Valley Conference championship with Unaka. The Highlanders finished 6-2 in league play and 19-9 overall while Hampton fell to 4-4, 17-11.
In the girls’ game, Cloudland won the Watauga Valley championship outright with a 54-41 victory over Hampton. Brooke Rhodes and Courtney Wilson combined for 44 points and 25 rebounds.
On almost any other night, Valentine would have been the story. He calmly dropped 35 points into the basket while ripping down 12 rebounds. Valentine spent much of the evening elevating over the smaller Highlanders and using his feathery soft touch on repeated 5-to-10 foot jumpers.
“That’s the best game he’s played for us,” said Hampton head coach Ned Smith of the Daniel Boone transfer.
But Cloudland had a major answer in the form of Zac Potter. The Highlanders’ standout finished with 29 points, giving him 45 in his last six quarters.
“We really challenged him at halftime of the Unaka game,” said Carpenter. “He has played six pretty good quarters since then.”
It was a one-to-four point game for most of three quarters before Cloudland went on a 13-4 run. However, Hampton called timeout and answered with a 10-0 run to make it 59-57 with six minutes left in regulation.
The Highlanders forged ahead, but Wesley Murray’s tough 15-foot jumper tied the game with 45 seconds left. Hampton eventually missed a hurried shot at the buzzer.
Cloudland edged ahead 71-67 in the first overtime, but Murray drained a 3-swish from the corner pocket. Valentine scored to put Hampton ahead, and then Cheyenne Camillo made one of two free throws with 6.1 seconds left.
Dylan McClellan rebounded the missed free throw and fired it to Zac Benfield, who raced 60 feet and got to the rim for a buzzer-beating, game-tying layup.
Trailing 77-75 in overtime, Potter knocked down a 3-hammer to put Cloudland back in front. Taylor Whitehead — who had his own big game with 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists — then made a tough bucket at the rim for an 80-77 lead.
However, Valentine answered with a free throw, and then hit a game-tying bucket with 46 seconds left.
Cloudland got a driving layup from Potter, who was fouled and converted the old-fashioned three-point play. Hampton missed a 3-point attempt, and McClellan sealed the victory with a free throw with 2.1 seconds remaining.
McClellan finished with 19 points and four steals while Benfield added eight points and 10 rebounds.
Hampton got 15 points from Murray while Johnny Fields added 14 points and seven rebounds. Cody McClain added eight assists.
“I think our kids played really hard,” said Smith. “They played hard enough to win. I should have made better adjustments.”
Cloudland (girls) 54
It was a tight game with Cloudland clinging to a 36-34 lead entering the fourth quarter.
However, the Lady Highlanders started the final period with a 7-2 spurt. They closed the deal with an 8-0 finish.
“Defense set the tone,” said Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield. “And we started hitting shots we were missing early. We also got some good rebounds and second shots, and that helped.”
Rhodes struggled a bit in the first half, but came on strong and finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds. She said the conference title was quite an accomplishment for a team that lost six players — including three to ACL injuries.
“Everybody was saying we couldn’t do it,” said Rhodes, who has signed with Presbyterian College. “We had the mindset to prove everybody wrong, and we all stepped up and did our jobs.”
Said Birchfield, “I feel proud of the girls because of their determination and heart.”
Courtney Wilson scored seven of her 20 points in a four-minute stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter for Cloudland (7-1, 18-10)
Dorothy Dugger tried to keep Hampton (6-2, 21-7) within striking distance. She finished with 17 points, knocking down five trey balls, and added four assists.
Danielle Guinn had eight points and eight rebounds while Paige Montgomery had seven points and nine rebounds.