by matt laws
special to the sun
The Lady Huskies came out of the locker room on a mission on Friday night in Baileyton. In the end, it turned out to be the deciding factor.
North Greene hit six 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes and was nearly flawless in the fourth quarter from the foul line as they edged No. 6 Cloudland 46-41. With the win, the Lady Huskies now need just one win in the final two games to clinch the conference title.
In the boys' contest, the Huskies pulled away late in the third quarter and never looked back as they picked up a 58-53 victory over the 'Landers.
For the North Greene girls, the win will be a step ahead in the postseason as it all but secures them one of the top two seeds in the District 1-A tournament, and also earns them a crucial bye.
"We wanted to get out of the play-in game," Head Coach James Buchanan said. "We did tonight and beat a real good team. We started off real good then they started pressuring us. We didn't handle it well, and they got back in the game. I knew they would make a run because they are a great team. We are fortunate to hold on and still have to make a lot of corrections."
Mendy McNeese scored 19 points to pace the Lady Huskies, while Kaylin Bowser had 10 points.
"We did ok at the foul line I thought," Buchanan said. "We really needed to take shots because they were pressuring us so much and if you aren't getting the foul called you still have to be aggressive. That is the way it worked out tonight. We were fortunate we started off so well because we sure needed it at the end."
In the first quarter, it was all Lady Huskies. McNeese and Bowser hit quick baskets to spark North Greene to a 14-2 lead capped by straight 3-pointers from Lauren Baxter, Macy McNeese and Mendy McNeese. Cloudland answered with five quick points from Kendall Mull, but Mendy McNeese scored four of the last six North Greene points to give the Lady Huskies a 20-7 after one.
Bowser continued the barrage of North Greene 3-pointers to open the second quarter. After a Haley Johnson 3-pointer for the Lady 'Landers, Mendy McNeese hit her third 3-pointer of the game to give NG a 16-point lead.
However, that would be the last points North Greene would register in the half. Courtney Wilson and Johnson sparked an 11-0 Cloudland run that was highlighted by the Lady 'Landers press defense and was capped by a 3-pointer from Mull as Cloudland closed the gap to 26-21 at the break.
The Lady 'Landers saw Mull strike again from behind the arc to open the third quarter. After a Katelyn Weems layup, Cloudland saw Courtney Clarke and Wilson each score back-to-back buckets to tie the game with 5:35 remaining. However, the only basket either team could hit was a Mendy McNeese jumper with 2:07 left in the quarter as the Lady Huskies took a 30-28 lead into the final stanza.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady 'Landers took their first lead of the game with a pair of free throws from Clarke and a Wilson jumper in the paint. North Greene answered from the foul line as Lauren Baxter and Bowser added a pair of free throws each. The charity stripe helped the Lady Huskies continue the run to 12-4, and the stretch was capped by a Baxter layup.
The Lady 'Landers closed the gap once again in the final minute as they pulled within two with 20 seconds left. However, Weems and Mendy McNeese secured the win at the free throw line.
Mull led Cloudland with 13 points, and Johnson and Wilson had 10 points apiece.
"You can't come out in our league like we did," Cloudland Head Coach Matt Birchfield said. "North Greene came out with vengeance and shot the lights out of it. We dug ourselves out of the hole again and battled back. We had a bad stretch in the third with some turnovers to really keep their momentum going. Then we ended up fouling them, and you can't foul North Greene. You foul North Greene and you will get beat because they make free throws."
For the North Greene boys, they used a strong effort from Brett Pollock to take a key conference win.
"It was a real good win," North Greene Head Coach Brandon Broyles said. "Anytime you beat Cloudland, you know it is a good win, and in our conference every game is a good win. I thought my kids played well."
Pollock tallied 16 points for the Huskies, while Troy Hall led all scorers with 18 points in the game.
"Pollock played exceptionally well," Broyles said. "He was the difference inside. He wanted the ball and scored and played well."
North Greene looked like they might just run away in the opening minutes as they jumped out to a 9-2 lead including four points from Pollock. Cloudland cut the gap to two points before the Huskies took a 16-11 advantage to the second quarter. With buckets by Colby Birchfield and Austin Whitehead, the 'Landers tied the game in the opening minute of the second quarter. Hall, however, answered for North Greene with six points during a 10-2 run to help the Huskies take a 29-27 advantage at the half.
The third quarter saw the 'Landers pull within three points by the midway point. North Greene responded as Hall drained a 3-pointer, and Pollock capped off a 9-0 run with four straight points to end the quarter as the Huskies took a 46-33 advantage into the final stanza.
In the final quarter, the Huskies extended their lead to 15 with just over a minute to play. Cloudland took advantage of six straight missed free throws and a 4-point play from Zac Benfield to close the gap to the final margin.
Whitehead and Birchfield had 18 and 14 points respectively to pace Cloudland.
Both North Greene squads return to action on Saturday evening as they host University High.