ROAN MOUNTAIN — If titles were decided by sheer guts and determination, Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield had no doubt his Lady Highlanders would have been crowned champions on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for them, overcoming a mountain of adversity wasn’t enough in a 68-66 overtime loss to Meigs County in the Class A girls basketball sectional at Sonny Smith Gym.
With 2:16 left in overtime, star guard Courtney Clarke went to the floor, writhing in pain with a knee injury.
Some 57 game seconds later, forward Haley Johnson suffered a neck injury and laid motionless after she crashed to the floor. Minutes later, she was carted off in an ambulance to Johnson City Medical Center.
The good news was that Clarke, although hobbled, returned to finish out the game. Johnson had feeling in her fingers and toes, and was able to recognize her coaches before leaving the arena, although no updates on her condition were available at press time.
Despite all the obstacles, Cloudland still had a chance to win it at the end, missing a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“What an effort these kids gave tonight,” Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield said after his team finished its season at 31-6. “It was tremendously tough for our kids to fight back after all that. These kids just don’t want to quit. I guess that’s what makes them as good as they are. They don’t want to quit. Meigs is a great team and it was a great game. It was just tough to overcome so many things.”
Clarke, the 5-foot-2 senior guard whom Birchfield describes as a firecracker, led the Lady ’Landers with 27 points, 13 of them in the fourth quarter. Her running mate most of the season, senior post Courtney Wilson, totaled 26 points and seven rebounds.
While they helped Cloudland go on a 12-0 run in the third quarter, they weren’t able to stop the Lady Tigers’ duo of Emileigh Swafford, who finished with 26 points and eight rebounds, and Taylor Boggess, who scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half.
It’s the first time for Meigs County coach Jason Powell going to the state tournament since he was an assistant on the Science Hill boys’ team.
Powell, who served as an assistant on the Hilltoppers’ 2002 state runner-up team, was sympathetic to Cloudland after such a hard-fought contest.
“I hate that both teams couldn’t go to the state,” Powell said as his team improved to 31-4. “Coach Birchfield does a great job and I hated for either one of us to lose. They shut Swafford down some in the second half, but Taylor made some huge shots. The big stop at the end of the game, we knew it was going to be Clarke. We got some help, but Wilson still got that shot off.”
Clarke had given Cloudland a one-point lead with 48 seconds left in regulation, only to be answered with a 3-pointer by Boggess. Not to ready for her season to end, Clarke drove the lane and hit a tying lay-up with five seconds left.
Swafford, a Lee University signee, had the first four points for Meigs County in overtime. Moving past the 2,000-point career mark in January, Swafford was the one who spurred Meigs on early on.
She had 15 points in the first half, leading the Lady Tigers to a 25-24 lead at the break. In the second half, she knew Boggess and the rest of her teammates needed to step it up if they were going to get to Murfreesboro.
“I knew they were going to double-team me,” Swafford said. “I told my teammates they better be ready to play. They came out there ready to go.”
For that matter, so did Cloudland’s players.
The Lady ’Landers were led by a group of seven seniors — Madison Wilson, Rachel Sparks, DeAndra Jarrett, Mattison McKinney, Courtney Wilson, Clarke and Johnson — whom their head coach had nothing, but praise. They won over 100 games and made three straight sub-state games over the course of their careers.
“I can’t say nothing but great things about these kids and what they’ve meant to this program,” Birchfield said. “It’s an incredible class with these sub-state games and the state tournament. They’ve done a lot of things a lot of high school kids just dream about. They’re just great kids, in the classroom and on the floor. They’ve just meant so much to our team.”comments powered by Disqus