Late lead, state berth slip away from Lady Highlanders

Johnson City Press • Updated Mar 4, 2018 at 12:29 AM

WARTBURG—Leading by seven points with about six minutes to play, Cloudland could see a Class A state tournament berth there for the taking.

The Lady Highlanders, however, couldn’t close the door on Wartburg Central, which used a 12-0 run to overcome its late deficit and post a 47-43 sectional win on Saturday night.

While Wartburg (23-7) advances to Murfreesboro for the first time since 2012, Cloudland (22-13) had a good postseason run come to an end.

“Cloudland, long bus ride — those kids came in and fought for four quarters,” Wartburg coach Jason Davis said of the Lady Highlanders.

Megan Lunsford scored to lift the Lady ’Landers to a 35-28 fourth-quarter advantage before the Lady Bulldogs closed within two (35-33) on a Madison Holley 3-pointer. Stacia Wilson countered with a bucket on the other end (37-33), then Madison Williams banked in a 3-pointer with under four minutes to go — triggering Wartburg’s decisive run.

A Holley steal and layup put the ’Dogs on top 38-37 with 3:21 left.

Trailing 45-37, the Lady ’Landers ended their scoreless stretch when Kenzie Birchfield, after drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt, sank three foul shots 18 seconds from the end.

Following a pair of Wartburg misfires from the charity stripe, Birchfield connected from 3-point territory to narrow the gap to two points (45-43) with 11 seconds remaining.

Cloudland, though, felt its comeback hopes sag when Holley, who scored 10 of her 12 points in the final period, knocked down two foul shots at the :10.2 mark. From there, a Wartburg steal sealed the outcome.

Turnovers were a significant factor in the contest, with Cloudland committing 19 and Wartburg only seven.

Makayla Poland amassed 13 points to show the way in the Lady Bulldogs’ scoring department.

Birchfield, with 15 points, and Wilson, who mustered an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, were tops for the Lady ’Landers. Trinity Vines chipped in nine points.

At halftime, CHS was up 21-18.

“(The Lady ’Landers) controlled tempo and we knew they were going to try to do that,” Davis said.

Cloudland shot a respectable 44.7 percent (17-38) from the field, but missed eight of its 13 free-throw tries. Hitting just 30.8 percent of their field-goal attempts (16-52), the Lady Bulldogs went 9 of 17 from the charity stripe.

The Lady ’Landers, who were seeking their sixth trip (first since 2013) to the state, outrebounded Wartburg 33-26.

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