CENTRE – It’s become an unsettling trend the Cherokee County Warriors have developed throughout the course of the 2021-22 basketball season.
The Warriors will play good basketball for three quarters, but there always seems to be that one quarter in which they struggle.
That was the case once again on Tuesday night at home against Etowah in a crucial Class 4A, Area 10 battle.
After Cherokee County built as much as a 12-point first-half advantage, Etowah closed out the first half on a 6-0 run, then went on a 10-0 run to begin the third to take the lead.
Trailing by eight at the end of the third, the Warriors stormed back to cut their deficit to a point with less than a minute to go. However, Etowah’s defense managed to prevent the Warriors from making their comeback complete in the closing seconds in a 65-64 heartbreaker.
“We’ve just got to put together four quarters,” Cherokee County head coach Caleb Hays said. “It seems like the story of our season, the losses especially. We play three really good quarters and one really bad quarter. We’ve got to find ways to piece together a full game against good teams.”
Things started out well enough for the Warriors (8-9, 1-3). Jack Amos connected on three first-quarter 3-pointers to help them build a 23-19 edge. Cherokee County extended its lead to 35-23 with 3:31 remaining in the first half on a 3-pointer by Malachi Horton, but the Blue Devils cut their deficit to 37-31 by halftime.
“I was wanting to keep pushing the pace. I felt like our guys got comfortable with a lead,” Cherokee County coach Caleb Hays said. “We came in at halftime and talked about going from a 12-point lead to a six-point lead. We could either come out (in the third quarter) and be the team that hits them in the mouth and extends that lead back to 12, or it could be a game where they hit us in the mouth. We talked about what they were about to come out and do defensively and try to give some different looks different looks there, but we just didn’t respond. We had the open shots. We had the open looks, but sometimes it’s just not your night when you’re shooting the ball.
“We’ve got to be able to score at least three different levels. That’s finishing at the rim, finishing at the free-throw line and finishing at the 3-point line. I thought we played well at the rim, but I didn’t think we shot free throws very well or 3-pointers very well. I know the 3-pointers were about as bad as we could do.”
Ironically, it was a 3-pointer that provided the Warriors the spark they needed down the stretch.
Trailing by nine early in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Caden Argo, the Warriors’ Braden Chandler connected on a trey with 2:14 to go in the game to bring the Warriors within five at 63-58. A rebound and putback by Jayden Wilson brought the Warriors even closer at 63-60, then Chandler scored following a rebound and putback with 55 seconds remaining to bring Cherokee County within one at 63-62.
Chandler was also fouled on the play, but couldn’t make the game-tying free throw.
“That was a shot I wish we could’ve made,” Hays said. “I feel like if we could’ve got it back even, I felt like we were playing better at the time than they were.”
Following a pair of free throws by Etowah’s Jalien Walker to make it a 65-62 game with 37.6 seconds remaining, Cherokee County had its chances down the stretch to tie the game.
In the game’s final sequence, Amos inbounded the ball from the baseline to Chandler. Etowah’s defense prevented the Warriors from setting up for the game-tying 3-pointer, and Chandler had to settle for a basket down low with one second left. Time expired and the Blue Devils escaped with the win.
“We had an opportunity there at the end to get the in-bounds in, and we had a play drawn up with eight seconds left,” Hays said. “We wanted the three at first. If we didn’t get it, we would take a quick two and foul. We wasted a little too much time. When we made the basket, we didn’t have any timeouts left to get the foul. If we were going to take the two, we needed to take it with about seven seconds left. It needed to be a quick read. We took a little long to read and didn’t get the shot we wanted.”
Amos and Wilson led the Warriors with 13 points apiece. Horton and Chandler both rang for nine points. CJ Gresham finished with seven points.
Hays complimented Chandler for his play down the stretch.
“Braden Chandler really stepped up and showed some leadership as a senior in the fourth,” he said. “He hit a big three to get us to where we could breathe again. He had an and-one finish. He was the spark to me in the fourth, which I love seeing out of a senior. I love seeing that out of a guy who has invested so much of his self in that type of game, especially with CJ fouling out. He came in and played big, but we needed to do a little better job of executing at the end when we got it to one.”
Deginal Spears led Etowah with 18 points. Josh Graham tossed in 17 points. Steven Jones contributed 12 points. Walker had nine points and Argo finished with six points on a pair of 3-pointers.
“I told our guys what could happen to us if we took our foot off the gas,” Hays said. “They played a more complete game overall. They set the tone in the third quarter for what was to come. It just turned out to be a little too much to overcome. You can’t put yourself in that big a hole.”
Cherokee County 84, Etowah 23
CENTRE – Ella Garmany scored Cherokee County’s first 10 points. She finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds in leading the Lady Warriors to an 84-23 Class 4A, Area 10 basketball victory over Etowah on Tuesday night.
In all, five Cherokee County players scored in double figures. In addition to Garmany, Audrey Green, Mary Hayes Johnson and Carson Coley each rang for 16 points. Green had a pair of treys along with 10 assists. Johnson sank three treys, had nine steals and eight assists. Coley also collected three 3-pointers in the win.
The Lady Warriors (11-5, 3-0) built a 22-4 first-quarter lead and didn’t look back. They led 44-14 at halftime and 63-21 at the end of three quarters.
“That’s so important especially when you’re playing an area game. You want to make sure you start off on a good foot and set the tempo, set it early,” Lady Warrior coach Leah Nelson said. “I felt like they did a good job of getting after it, especially in our press. I think it caused them some problems and we were able to convert those into points. I was proud of the way they stepped up. Our last ball game, we didn’t play so well. We didn’t have a lot of intensity, but I felt like they did a good job of bringing that tonight.”
Laura Wood led the Lady Blue Devils with nine points. McKinley Works added eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers.