The Cherokee Bluff girls basketball team needed more than 32 minutes to settle a first-round Region 7-3A tournament contest against Lumpkin County. But thanks to strong free throw shooting down the stretch, the Lady Bears fought their way to a 53-48 overtime victory over the Lady Indians to advance and earn a second-round meeting against top-seed Greater Atlanta Christian, as well as a spot in the state tournament.
Freshman Timber Gaither scored 22 points to lead the Lady Bears (13-13), while Madi Phillips chipped in 19 in the narrow victory.
Both teams struggled to find room offensively to start the game, but the Lady Bears took a slim 6-point lead into halftime as Phillips and senior Maddie Thomas began to find openings in the Lumpkin County defense.
The team took a 20-14 lead into the locker room at the halftime break.
Gaither went to work in the third period, dropping a trio of 3-pointers to extend the Lady Bears lead to 11 as the teams headed into the final eight minutes.
The fourth period saw a resurgent Lady Indians squad determined to fight off elimination as they clamped down defensively and fought their way back into a 43-43 tie by the end of regulation.
Both teams scored more from the free-throw line than the floor during the four-minute overtime stanza, but the Lady Bears managed to pull away early and hold off the Lady Indians.
With the win, Cherokee Bluff will advance to take on Greater Atlanta Christian in the tournament’s second round on Friday at 7 p.m. at North Hall.
NORTH HALL GIRLS 52, EAST HALL 44: Although the game was held on the neutral court of Dawson County High School, the tension of rivalry was in the air during the third meeting of the year between Lady Trojans and Lady Vikings.
North Hall coach Kristi House acknowledged the difficulty of the challenge faced by her team.
“It’s players going at each other every time,” House said. “We are always close and play very evenly every time we meet.”
And while the contest was physical and tightly contested from the outset, Ansley Smallwood and Grace Hollifield’s combined output of 24 points ended up being too much for East Hall to keep up with. With the win, North Hall advances to play Dawson County in a second-round matchup on Friday and locks up a spot in the state tournament.
From the beginning of the game, both teams battled hard in attempting to establish an inside game. After a grueling eight minutes, the Lady Vikings held onto a 16-13 lead.
Both teams put up more defense in the second period, holding each other to 7 points each, and the teams headed to locker room with the score at 23-20 still in favor of East Hall.
Smallwood and Hollifield opened up the game for the Lady Trojans in the third period, as they were able to crack the East Hall defense from the outside, but the Lady Vikings continued to find the net as well. The lead changed hands on almost every crossing of the floor.
The fourth period started with North Hall in the lead by a single point, and the tension rose a notch as the teams continued to fight it out both figuratively and literally, with foul trouble becoming an issue for both sides as time wound down.
On the strength of 69 percent free-throw accuracy in the fourth period alone, the Lady Trojans extended their lead late in the period to seal their victory.
The loss marked the end of the season for East Hall, while North Hall will play Dawson County at 4 p.m. on Friday.