There were plenty of implications for Region 8-4A, Subregion A during both ends of Cherokee Bluff’s basketball doubleheader against Chestatee at the Lynn Cottrell Center on Friday night.
The Bears boys locked down the top seed from the subregion for the upcoming region tournament, and home court advantage for the opening round, with an offensive onslaught in the second half to pave the way for a 75-61 win.
The girls, meanwhile, played spoiler for the Lady War Eagles’ hopes for the top spot by fending off several fourth-quarter comeback attempts to hold on for a 62-58 victory.
The Cherokee Bluff boys (17-7, 9-4) were able to turn things around in the second half of their game by buckling down on both end of the court after Chestatee (15-9, 8-6) took a 31-27 lead into intermission following a huge first half from Colton Wilbanks.
The 6-foot-5 junior scored 15 of his 19 points with 10 of his 17 rebounds, many of those on the offensive glass, in the opening 16 minutes, including a pair of stickbacks in the final 1:47 that sent the War Eagles into the locker room with the lead.
But there were two big factors that made a difference for the Bears in the second half – one an unusual defensive adjustment and the other simply shooting better.
“I told (the players) at halftime, ‘We’re playing the way were supposed to play,’” Cherokee Bluff boys coach Josh Travis said. “We might’ve taken one or two bad shots from a selection standpoint, which means (the shots) are going to go in (eventually). So keep playing our way, and get them in.
“But the big thing was rebounding. … I did something really unorthodox. I put my shortest starter (Tyler Underwood) on (Wilbanks). We’ve done it all three games (against Chestatee), but we did it specifically to box out. … Tyler’s strong, but when you press and you trap, all the sudden, those matchups get scrambled. So, whenever we had when Tyler was on him, he couldn’t get to the rim. Tyler did a phenomenal job.”
Those two factors were particularly apparent during two big runs in the second half that resulted in Cherokee Bluff erupting for 48 second-half points.
The first was a 15-0 run that followed an Eli Parlier stickback to start the second half.
A pair of 3-pointers from Logan Holmes, who finished with five baskets from behind the arc on the night, and two more buckets from Tanaka Mukono were the key as the Bears turned a six-point deficit into a 42-35 lead following Cooper Glover’s three-point play with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
The second came after Chestatee began to fight back in the fourth quarter after trailing 52-44 at the end of the third frame.
Jarvis Weaver tallied 11 of his game-high 20 points in the final frame to help the War Eagles pull as close as 60-57 with 4:12 remaining.
That’s when the Bears re-established control, with Andy Quirarte knocking down a key 3-pointer with 3:33 left, igniting a 15-4 run over the remainder of the game.
Carlos Marlow (19 points), Boston Kersh (17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), Holmes (17 points, 6 rebounds) and Mukono (11 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals) all played a big role as Cherokee Bluff slowly pulled away and secured the top seed for the region tournament.
Meanwhile, the Cherokee Bluff girls (14-9, 8-6) were already locked into the No. 4 seed from their subregion before Friday’s game even began.
However, the Lady Bears threw a major roadblock into any hopes Chestatee (17-7, 10-4) had for the subregion’s top seed by jumping out early to take a 30-19 lead into halftime, and then holding off the Lady War Eagles as they tried to rally in the second half.
“(Chestatee) is too good of a team to just lay down,” Cherokee Bluff girls coach Lindsay Justice said. “We knew they were going to go for it and go on some runs. Containing Riley Black is a big job. She’s just such a great player and so tough. It’s hard to keep her out of the paint.
“But every time they went on a run, we did respond, and that’s what we haven’t been able to do sometimes in the close games. And we knocked down our free throws at the end, which we didn’t do (in a loss at North Hall) on Tuesday, so I’m really proud of them.”
Trailing by as much as 37-26 midway through the third quarter, Chestatee posted a 13-4 run over the final 4:15 of the period behind a bucket from Black, a 3-ball and two free throws from Caroline Bull and six points from Payton Cable.
The Lady War Eagles actually tied the game at 39-all late before Mia Williams’ stickback with 23 seconds sent Cherokee Bluff into the fourth quarter with a 41-39 lead.
Then after a conventional three-point play from Kaitlin Cook and a 3-pointer from Claire Carlson stretched the lead back to eight at 47-39 with 6:48 remaining, the Lady Bears had to endure another Chestatee run.
Black scored eight of her team-high 21 points, while Bull and Addison Boyd each added a 3-pointer to lead a 14-6 run that pulled the Lady War Eagles even again at 53-all with 2:19 to play.
But the Lady Bears never allowed Chestatee to gain the lead, as Williams responded by converting a feed from Carlson into a three-point play with a layup and free throw with 2:00 remaining, while Cook followed with a stickback with 35 seconds left of her own to give Cherokee Bluff some breathing room at 58-53.
Carlson and Audrey Graham then came up clutch by draining four straight free throws in the final 10.1 seconds as Cherokee Bluff was a perfect 6-for-6 in the final frame to put the game away.
Carlson led all scorers with 23 points and added five rebounds, two assists and three steals, while the Lady Bears also got 15 points and 12 boards from Williams, 10 points from Emma Reynolds and eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals from Cook.
Black had 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals to go with her 21 points to lead Chestatee, while Bull contributed 18 points, including four 3-pointers, five rebounds and two steals, and Cable finished with 12 points and six rebounds.