HAMPTON — Hampton flipped the Mountain East Conference final standings as the Bulldogs defeated Cloudland 70-61 Friday to force a tie for the league’s regular season crown.
With the victory the Bulldogs moved into a tie with the Highlanders as the two own matching 6-2 league records. A coin flip at the coaches’ meeting on Wednesday will determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for the upcoming District 1A tournament that begins Friday at Daniel Boone High School. Hampton’s overall record went to 16-13 while Cloudland has a 16-10 overall record.
Earlier in the evening the Lady Highlanders made it a clean sweep through the conference with a 58-48 victory. Cloudland, the No. 5 team in the AP State Poll, improved to 24-3 overall with a perfect 8-0 league mark.
A 15-2 run by Hampton in the last 4:40 of the first half turned Cloudland’s 21-18 lead into a 33-23 advantage for the home squad in the boys’ contest.
The early portion of the third period saw the teams trade baskets, but Cloudland was hitting three pointers compared to two points for the Bulldogs to cut into the margin. Mason Carnett’s score brought the visitors within two, 39-37, near the mid-point of the quarter.
It would not be until the fourth stanza with 5:25 left that Jeffrey Rhinehart’s three pointer fixed the score at 55 apiece. Just a few seconds later Wesley Murray gave the Bulldogs the lead for good. Cloudland had chances to draw closer, but the Highlanders were 1-for-5 at the line in the last 3:45 compared to the Bulldogs’ 7-for-10 performance in the same stretch. For the game Cloudland was 6-for-14 when it came to free throws and Hampton went 20-for-29.
“Our kids kept battling and working hard,” Hampton head coach Ned Smith commented. “I thought Cloudland played well, but our kids kept battling. I’m just proud of the way they battled.”
Cody McClain paced the victorious Bulldogs with 26 points. Tyler Trusler and Murray finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
The Highlanders’ 11 three pointers rained down as Jonathan Hill hit six of those long-range shots en route to 19 points. Rhinehart totaled 15 points.
The Lady Highlanders had to overcome an early deficit as Hampton started the contest with a 12-4 lead 10 seconds into the second quarter. Cloudland was able to rally to force a 20-20 at the halftime break.
The second half started nip and tuck, but a three point play by Brooke Rhodes gave the visitors the lead for good 27-24. After the play the junior had seven points en route to a game-best 23 along with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
The Lady Highlanders boosted their margin up to 46-34 with 5:30 left, but Hampton’s back-to-back three pointers brought the home crowd alive. Cloudland was able to hold off any surge with an effective night at the line going 15-for-16 for the game and a perfect 10-for-10 in the last 2:29.
Upon completion of the conference slate Hampton finished as the runner-up with a 5-3 record in the league with a 17-11 overall mark. The Lady Bulldogs’ District 1A semifinal opponent will be North Greene while Cloudland plays the winner between Unaka and University High.
“The girls set that one early,” Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield commented about running the conference table. “To win a conference is tough and the girls really wanted to be undefeated.”
Hampton’s Dorothy Dugger was honored before the game for eclipsing the 1,000-point mark earlier in the season. She has raced past that and now is working on reaching 1,200. Dugger poured in 16 more to give her 506 for the season.
Before the postseason starts, Cloudland and Hampton each have another regular season game as Cloudland goes to Unicoi County Monday and Hampton travels to Chuckey-Doak the same night.