Lady ‘Landers rally past Sunbright to state tournament

Published 10:59 am Monday, March 4, 2024

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For the third time in four seasons, the Cloudland Lady Highlanders (27-1) advanced to the TSSAA state tournament with a 38-30 victory over Sunbright on Saturday night at Sonny Smith Gymnasium. Senior forward Ryan Turbyfill scored a game-high 14 points and had a pair of fourth-quarter midcourt steals that helped break open a tightly contested game.

Of her steals, Turbyfill said, “I think it helped put us in a good position, and there was no better way for us to win. It’s just amazing that it would end this way. The pace of the game was slow, and we knew we would have to make a run, and that would come from our defense.”

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The game was nip and tuck all the way, with the score tied at 7-7 after one period. However, the Lady ‘Landers opened a slender 15-12 halftime advantage, with senior post Izabella Christman’s six points leading the way. Christman battled Sunbright’s twin posts Addison Coleman and Madeline Petrey to a standoff, saying, “We played North Greene four times this year, and they have a similar type of post, so I was pretty sure how to handle it. It was real tough for sure, and I just did the best I could. This means so much after last year when I got hurt. It’s bittersweet since this is the last time we will play at this gym. It was all defensive effort tonight, Ryan had two big steals, and Saharra had the two drives for buckets that were big.”

The Lady Tigers (24-5) closed to within 24-22 going into the fourth quarter, with star player Addy Rogers held to just two points by the ‘Landers stifling defense. In the fourth quarter, Addison Shannon dropped in a trey to give Sunbright its only lead of the game since it was 2-0 in the first period at 25-24. Senior Saharra McKinney then took over with a pair of dribble drive buckets that sparked an eight-point Cloudland run, giving the ‘Landers a 32-25 lead that the Lady Tigers never threatened. In the run, Shell hit a deuce and Turbyfill dropped in two free throws before a deuce from McKenna Smith ended the run. “Ryan told me after the timeout that I had to take over,” McKinney said. “We knew it would be a tough game, and we had to play great defense. We have played that way all season, and it is just an amazing feeling to get this win.”

Addison Shannon took top scoring honors for Sunbright with 12 points, with Freels adding six points. For Cloudland, Shell scored eight points, and McKinney added seven. “This was a goal of ours all season,” Lady ‘Landers head coach Matt Birchfield said. “We struggled early, but when it came time to step up, we did. Ryan had two big steals and hit her free throws, which was huge. Saharra had two drives to the basket and was big on the boards. These teams play a lot alike, and we knew we had to play tough defense. Whoever we play next, we know it will be a battle, but my seniors have made this trip three times so we will be prepared.”

TSSAA 1-2 A Sectional Championship

Sonny Smith gymnasium

Cloudland 38-30

Sunbright (30)

Freels 6, Branstetter 2 Coleman 2, Rogers 2, Shannon 12, Smith 4, Petrey 2.

Cloudland (38)

Street 3, Shell 8, McKinney 7, Turbyfill 14, Christman 6.

Sunbright 7 5 10 8 – 30

Cloudland 7 8 9 14 – 38

3-point goals: S 5 (Shannon 3, Freels 2), C 3 (Turbyfill 2, Street 1)