BY DARREN REESE
The Cloudland girls served notice Friday night that they are going to be no pushover during the second half of the 2012-13 basketball season.
Meanwhile, North Greene, showed that it has some work to do in order to be a serious contender when the Class A postseason rolls around.
The Lady Highlanders - a year removed from sweeping the District 1 and Region 1 championships and advancing to the Class A state tournament - brought a less-than-stellar 5-10 record to North Greene Thursday night, yet jumped out to an early lead and later rallied for a 49-45 victory over the Lady Huskies.
The loss marked the fourth in the last five games for North Greene, after a 12-1 stretch to begin the season.
The Lady Huskies welcomed back senior standout forward Laiken Morrow for the game, but she was less than 100 percent after a three-week layoff due to an ankle injury.
"To this point in the season, we played are best basketball early," North Greene head coach James Buchanan said. "That's not what you want. You don't want to peak early."
"We've hit a rough stretch here, between a couple of conference losses and then playing some tough competition in the Ladies Classic. We are at a crossroad right now. Hopefully we can bounce back and get to the other side."
Cloudland placed three players in double figures, led by Brooke Rhodes with 16 points. Courtney Wilson and Martina Presnell added 10 apiece.
Wilson finished with a double-double as she pulled down 12 rebounds. Rhodes finished one rebound shy of also accomplishing the feat.
The Lady Highlanders dominated the boards, grabbing 45 rebounds to North Greene's 24. The visitors had a 24-10 advantage on the boards in the first half, which helped them enjoy a 19-13 lead at the break.
Nothing went right for North Greene in the first two quarters. The Ladies Huskies made just 4-of-22 shots from the field, including a 3-for-13 effort from behind the arc.
Two of those threes came from Morrow in the final 45 seconds of the half, which ended a 10-2 Cloudland run.
Morrow finished with eight points and nine rebounds in her first action since a 78-33 win over Washburn on December 13. She was noticably slowed in the second half Friday night, but played the entire contest due to Cloudland's size advantage underneath.
"She couldn't have been in very good shape," Buchanan noted. "This was her first game in over two weeks."
"I had opportunities to sub her out, but I was fearful that their big kid would score on us real easy and I knew Laiken would offer some sort of resistence. That was probably not very smart on my part."
Morrow's threes to end the half seemed to ingnite the Lady Huskies, temporarily, though.
Mendy McNeese, Katelyn Weems and Dariane Bailey all made three-pointers in the opening minutes of the third quarter to storm the home team back in front, 23-18.
North Greene would lead by as many as nine, including at 35-26 as the period came to an end.
After that, though, it was pretty much all Cloudland.
The Lady Highlanders scored the first 12 points of the fourth to take a 38-35 lead. That stretch featured four baskets off turnovers, including one that led to an old fashion three-point play by Madison Wilson with 3:37 left in the game.
"They were just silly mistakes, too," Buchanan said. "They weren't necessarily forcing them. We were just getting careless and making poor decisions."
The game was back-and-for the rest of the way, with four ties and six lead changes.
North Greene last took the lead after a pair of McNeese free throws made it 43-42 with 2:27 on the clock.
Cloudland answered with four straight points, and then used solid free-throw shooting to hold on.
The Lady Huskies had one last opportunity to tie the game when Presnell missed the second of two free throws with the score 48-46 and 26 seconds remaining. However, McNeese couldn't get a shot off in an attempt to go coast to coast, and Rhodes made a pair of foul shots on the opposite end to seal the victory.
McNeese finished with 18 points in the loss, followed by Corinne Guelli with nine.