Prior to the Cherokee Bluff girl’s basketball team’s Friday night region matchup against No. 7 Dawson County, Lady Bears coach Lindsay Justice said she hadn’t yet seen her team play a complete game in any of its first 17 contests.
That all changed against the Lady Tigers.
The Lady Bears started strong and finished tough, gutting out a 63-56 win at home to claim their first region victory of the program’s inaugural season.
“We’ve had some good moments and good quarters, but we hadn’t really put a full string of four quarters together yet,” Justice said. “I challenged them and they stepped up to the challenge.”
Freshman guard Timber Gaither led the way for Cherokee Bluff (10-8, 1-4 Region 7-3A) with 24 points — knocking down five 3-pointers — but nearly every member of the team made significant contributions along the way. Junior center Madi Phillips had a monster double-double with 11 points and 20 rebounds, adding a two steals and a pair of blocks.
Junior guard Sierra Wainer scored just 3 points, but played man defense throughout the game on Dawson County forward and Clemson commit Kaylee Sticker, holding her to only 6 points on the night.
“Sierra is a cross country runner,” Justice said. “She’s really good at running. I knew that her endurance could outlast pretty much anyone we play. That was our challenge was to stay in (Sticker’s) face and not let her catch the ball and outlast her. (Wainer) did a great job.”
Dawson County’s (11-6, 3-2) Ella Siuta scored 17.
The Lady Bears set the tone early in the game, starting things off on a quick 10-2 run powered primarily by a pair of 3s from Maddie Thomas and Chelsea Reece. Gaither’s first trey of the game with two minutes to play in the opening frame pushed the lead to nine, an advantage the home team held after the opening eight minutes.
The Lady Bears would have run away with things in the second quarter if not for the clutch shooting of Dawson County’s Ella Siuta. Siuta scored 14 points in the period, hitting four 3s to keep her team within reach.
But each time it appeared the Lady Tigers would make a run, a timely basket from Gaither kept the needle pointed in her team’s direction.
“I just know that as the point guard and the leader that I have to keep pushing,” Gaither said. “If I give up, my team’s going to give up. I can’t do that, so I just have to keep pushing.”
A three-point play from Gaither with a minute to go until halftime kept the Cherokee Bluff lead at nine points at the break, and the team didn’t let up in the second half. The Lady Bears knocked in four treys in the third period — another two coming from Gaither — to take a 12-point lead going into the final frame.
Dawson County closed the gap a bit in the fourth quarter behind a 14-3 run in the middle of the period, but Phillips’ rebounding late was too much for the visiting team to handle.
On four separate occasions in the final two minutes, Phillips collected boards off of her own team’s missed free throws, preventing Dawson County from fighting back into the lead.
“We’ve been challenging (Phillips) to be tougher, and she was,” Justice said. “That was huge for us, because that kept the ball on our end of the court at the end of the game.”
Unable to get back control of the ball, the Lady Tigers could do nothing but watch as the Lady Bears finished off their upset win.
DAWSON COUNTY BOYS 81, CHEROKEE BLUFF 57: The Bears kept things close early against the Tigers, but things fell apart for the home team in the fourth quarter. Cherokee Bluff trailed by only six at halftime and drew to within two early in the third quarter. But Dawson County started the final frame on a 17-1 run and never looked back en route to the win.
“We have to play 32 minutes,” Bear coach Benjie Wood said. “They’re a really good basketball team and they have multiple weapons. And they’re really an intelligent basketball team and they play well as a team. So right now, we play well in spurts, but we have to learn how to be more consistent and stick to the game plan. We’re a young team. We’ll get there.”
Bosko Norman scored 21 points for the Bears (10-7, 2-3 Region 7-3A), 15 of those coming in the first half. Luke Chism poured in 30 for Dawson County (14-3, 4-1), including an alley-oop dished from Jasper Gibson that finished off the Tigers dominant run to start the fourth quarter.
“We made some mistakes, and every mistake that we made they took advantage of,” Wood said. “That’s what good teams do.”