By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
CEDAR BLUFF – Don’t look now, but the Cherokee County Warrior boys basketball team appears to be hitting its stride.
Following a 15-week football season and losing their first two games of the basketball season, the Warriors have now won five in a row, including Tuesday night’s Alabama ONE Cherokee Boys Basketball Invitational championship at Cedar Bluff.
Behind Jack Amos’s 18 points and Landon Caldwell’s 16 points, as well as a tremendous defensive effort, the Warriors earned a convincing 60-30 victory over Bremen, Ga.
“I definitely think we’re starting to get there,” Cherokee County coach Caleb Hays said. “Early on, in the first couple of games, those were two good teams we played (Etowah and Jacksonville). It’s poor scheduling by the coach I guess, but ever since the White Plains game it seems like we’ve just got a little bit better. I feel like the Alexandria game we hit our stride a little bit. The Handley game, we didn’t shoot the ball extremely well, but we played hard and we didn’t look like we were gassed.
“We’ve had five really good wins. Our guys are trusting what we’re trying to get them to do. They’re trusting each other. They’re playing hard for each other and they’re playing hard for our community.”
Early in Tuesday’s championship, Hays felt the Warriors weren’t as physical as they needed to be rebounding, but they quickly fixed that.
“They started working for better position,” Hays said. “Landon and Jaden (Wilson), when they’re down in the paint and they get to the right help, they’re extremely good rim protectors. To me, the full-court pressure that we came and played with the right kind of pace, we rotated pretty smart. When we got them into the half-court, Landon and Jaden protected the rim. Jack, Malachi (Horton), Cade (Hopper), Eli (Martin), Jacob (Cornejo) and Jackson (Neyman), the pressure those guys are putting on the perimeter is really helping those two in the paint. They’re causing some forced efforts. They’ve got great timing, they’re long and they do a good job.”
The Warriors built a 16-5 first-quarter advantage which swelled to a 38-15 edge by halftime. By the end of the third quarter, Cherokee County held a 50-25 lead.
The Warriors allowed just one Blue Devil to reach double figures: Cade Costanzo, who netted 16 points.
“That’s a team that plays with a lot of tempo,” Hays said. “When they get into their half-court stuff and they start running their motion, there’s a lot of screening action. They have some really good shooters and they have a big post too, so we had to communicate a lot on the different screens and making sure we were closing out on who their shooters were.”
Martin added nine points for the Warriors. Horton finished with six points.
“Early on, you kind of want to see every game as a test, every tournament is a test to see what your build is,” Hays said. “These guys have been working hard and I’m just glad that it is a tournament this year. The last couple of years it hasn’t been. I think it’s good to go back to this style. I think it makes it more fun for the fans and the players. It gets you some good matchups. It just shows you early on kind of what you’re going to be made of.
“The fact they’re the winners they are is a testament to all the sports these guys play. They come out here and compete and they don’t care who’s on the other side. They’re going to go out there and compete and play for each other and play the right way. That’s what we’re looking for in the early season because in the postseason we’re going to have to play really well if we’re going to make it where we want to make it. Seeing that in a tournament that has so much hometown pride, it gives me a lot of hope and confidence and trust in these guys and what they’re going to be doing later on.”