AFTON — Matt Birchfield was preaching to the choir at halftime.
Cloudland’s girls basketball team survived North Greene’s stall tactics and then broke out in a hearty version of “Victory in Jesus” in a postgame celebration of its hard-fought 31-24 victory Monday night.
The Region 1-A semifinal win at Chuckey-Doak Middle School lifted Cloudland (30-4) into Wednesday’s championship game against Cosby (25-3) at 7 p.m. Cosby stormed from behind late to beat Hampton, 48-42.
North Greene — which had lost three times to Cloudland this season — rarely looked to score in the first half, and seemed to be a little loose handling the ball. However, the stall strategy worked to near perfection and the Lady Huskies held a 9-8 advantage at the break.
Birchfield said he didn’t tear his team down at the break, but rather just talked to them about what was needed in the second half.
“We had to try to give the kids some confidence,” said Birchfield, who added that his team is a singing bunch of kids, often songs with a Christian theme. “(North Greene) held the ball and we panicked a little early. We just told the girls to relax, and take a shot if it’s there.”
Cloudland quickly took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring the first nine points to open a 17-9 advantage.
The Lady Highlanders eventually stretched their lead to 21-11, but North Greene proved to be a group of fighters. The Lady Huskies scrapped their way back to within 28-24 and had possession of the ball with 1:02 left in the game.
However, North Greene had a turnover after an offensive rebound. And then Cloudland made three free throws to seal the victory.
After not getting many opportunities in the first half because North Greene built a fort around her, Brooke Rhodes had a strong second half and finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Rhodes said the first-half attention was different.
“When I came down here people talked about me, but I never knew it would be like this,” said Rhodes, who transferred from North Carolina to Cloudland prior to the season. “I knew I had to rely a lot on my teammates. They knew when to throw me the ball. And Summer (Hughes) did an awesome job.”
Haley Vaughn led North Greene with eight points.
Leading 39-33 with just under six minutes left in the game, Hampton picked the wrong time to go stone cold on the offensive end.
The Bulldogs went five minutes without scoring, and Cosby scratched its way back. The Eagles took the lead, 40-39, on a bucket by Lexi Lowery with 3:29 remaining.
Hampton played without senior guard Paige Dugger, who suffered an ankle injury in practice Saturday. That made guarding Lowery more difficult.
“We fouled two people out trying to stop her,” said Hampton head coach Leon Tolley. “When you’ve got a girl as quick as her coming off a screen, and a girl who can shoot the lights out, and a dead-eye shooter in the corner, it’s tough.”
Cosby then pulled away by making 8 of 12 free throws down the stretch.
Not having Dugger, and also having a couple of kids under the weather made Tolley wish he had another shot.
“We would like to play them again,” said Tolley. “But sometimes it’s just not meant to be.”
Dorothy Dugger led Hampton with 17 points. Alexis Bowers added 10 before fouling out.
Hampton finished at 20-13.
“There weren’t many games we lost that we shouldn’t have,” said Tolley. “And we won a few we shouldn’t have. But we lost our mojo eight or 10 games ago and haven’t played well since. Eventually it caught up with us.”