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Highlanders valiant effort falls short in District 1-A tourney

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
KINGSPORT – The Cloudland Highlanders made the trip off of Roan Mountain on Thursday evening and traveled to Kingsport to face off with the Sullivan North Golden Raiders in a game that boiled down to win and stay alive in the district tournament and a slot in the regions or lose and stow away the uniforms and sneakers until next season.

Coach Tyler Chambers had a game plan from the get-go and that was to slow down the boys from Kingsport but the Raiders finally managed to break free in the fourth quarter to take a 37-31 win and bring the Highlanders season to a close.

Chambers’s plan entailed a very patient approach on the offensive end and try to force turnovers on the defensive side of the basketball.

In the slower tempo game, the first quarter reflected the pace as the ‘Landers took a 9-5 lead after one period of play as the Raiders didn’t score their first basket until five minutes had ticked off the clock.

Elijah Blair accounted for four points in the opening period while Caleb Sluder tickled the cotton for a trey. Bentley Gilbert collected the other two points scored in the quarter.

That same tempo transferred over to the second eight minutes of play as by the time the horn sounded to take the squad to an intermission, the teams left the court where they started dead even at 15-15.

Victor Hicks collected four points for the ‘Landers with Blair hitting two free throws to account for Cloudland’s points.

CJ Marais was a thorn in the Highlanders’ side all night long as the big man did a ton of damage underneath the basket as Cloudland couldn’t get a body on him to box him away from the offensive board.

Marais was responsible for nine of the 15 Raider points scored in the half.

Tru Vance chipped in four points for North while Bryant Herron added a deuce.

The Raiders finally came up with a plan of attack during the break as they managed to work themselves out front 27-24 when the third-period horn sounded.

Herron was responsible for the push as he hit for five in the stanza including a trey while Marais continued his hard work inside to add four. Isaiah Pruitt drilled a trey for North as well.

Sluder accounted for five of the nine points in the period for Cloudland with Dylan Shell adding four.

With their season on the line, Cloudland looked up at the scoreboard with four minutes left to play and found themselves down by nine points but that didn’t stop Chambers squad from buckling down to make one final run at the Raiders.

Behind seven points from Bentley Gilbert, the ‘Landers managed to slice the lead down to two points with two minutes left to go and had a couple of perfect scoring opportunities go by the wayside before the Raiders managed to salt the game away and advance to a Saturday matchup against Hampton in Hampton at 7 pm.

After the contest, Cloudland’s Gilbert and Victor Hicks were recognized as All Watauga Valley Conference for the season while North’s Herron and Pruitt were also recognized as All-Conference selections.