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Wartburg rallies past Cloudland, 47-43

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By Taylor Crombie

The Wartburg Lady Bulldogs trailed the Cloudland Lady Highlanders for most of the TSSAA Class A Sectional, but came back in the fourth quarter to win 47-43 and advance to the state tournament. Wartburg put up seven points in about 15 seconds late in the fourth quarter to take the lead and eventually win the game.

“We’re explosive at times,” Wartburg head coach Jason Davis said. “Really the thing was Cloudland did a great job controlling the pace and the tempo. We kind of got in some foul trouble, but thank God our base defense is man-to-man because at the end we had to do that to put a little more pressure on the ball. I thought that ball pressure helped us spur that run and it just helped get our energy up.”

The Lady Bulldogs started out with a five-point run, but the early lead didn’t last for long. Cloudland’s post players Stacia Wilson and Trinity Vines put together a seven-point run to put the Lady Highlanders up two. Makayla Poland made a three and Mackenzie Armes scored on rebound, giving Wartburg a three-point lead, but Vines made a free throw at the end of the period to make it a one possession game.

The second quarter started out as a back-and-forth battle, but Cloudland pulled ahead 21-18 at the end of the first half.

Wartburg opened the second half with a six-point run with baskets from Armes, Poland and Madison Holley to pull ahead momentarily, but that was all the Lady Bulldogs would get on offense in the third period. The Lady Highlanders scored nine unanswered points to take a 30-24 lead at the end of the third quarter.

The fourth quarter did not start out any better for Wartburg. Holley and Hurtt added a free throw each, while Leah Burchfield drained a three to extend Cloudland’s lead to seven. Armes and Poland both made buckets broken up by a shot from Megan Lunsford, then Holley made a three to get Wartburg’s crowd going and make it a two-point game. Wilson answered on Cloudland’s next possession, though, putting the Lady Highlanders back up by four.

After a long scoring drought for both teams, Madison Williams got a wide-open look and made the 3-pointer that sparked the pivotal run for the Lady Bulldogs. Holley picked off the inbound pass from Cloudland, drew a foul and made both free throws to give the Lady Bulldogs a one-point lead. Poland snatched the ball away from the Lady Highlanders under Wartburg’s basket on Cloudland’s next possession and Holley scored again, putting Wartburg up 40-37 in just over 15 seconds.

“When the run started I actually said out loud ‘oh wow’ when we got that first steal and score,” Davis said. “With this bunch, it’s almost like a switch flipping. Once it’s on, it’s on.”

The Lady Bulldogs scored 12 unanswered points before Burchfield ended Cloudland’s scoring drought with three free throws after being fouled beyond the 3-point line. Burchfield made a three with 11 seconds left in the game, bringing the score to 45-43. With the game still within reach, the Lady Highlanders were fouling to stop the clock and try to at least tie the game. Holley made two free throws right at the end and the Lady Highlanders were unable to score, bringing the final to 47-43.

With the win, the Lady Bulldogs are set to make their third state tournament appearance in program history. They will play Unaka, who they beat 40-37 on the road before Christmas, at 10 a.m. CT on Thursday at the Murphy Center on Middle Tennessee State University’s campus. The Region 1-A Champion Lady Rangers enter the tournament with a 27-10 record.

“We’ve got a lot to do to be state tournament-ready on Thursday, but it’s a great problem to have and I’m glad we’re still playing,” Davis said.

Wartburg (47) Johnson 6, Holley 13, Hurtt 4, Poland 13, Armes 8, Williams 3.

Cloudland (43) L. Burchfield 15, Wilson 11, J Burchfield 4, Lunsford 4, Vines 9.