GAINESVILLE — The Cherokee Bluff girls basketball team, though thin overall on experience, resembles nothing like a first-year startup program.
Three days after knocking off Class 3A No. 6 Dawson County, the Lady Bears came to No. 5 North Hall Tuesday night looking for some more magic in a crucial Region 7-3A matchup.
And with just 3:17 left, Cherokee Bluff looked poised for a repeat upset after using an 11-1 run to take a 41-37 lead, capped by a 3-pointer from Timber Gaither. But the Lady Trojans countered down the stretch with their own experience.
North Hall closed out the game with an 8-1 run holding the Lady Bears to no field goals the rest of the way with several key defensive stops, including one with 4 seconds left, to escape with a tough 45-42 victory at home.
The North Hall boys made it a sweep pulling away late for a 60-46 win in the nightcap.
It was a key win the Lady Trojans (13-4, 5-1 Region 7-3A) who came into the night tied with Greater Atlanta Christian atop the region standings. At worst it stays that way. At best, they are the new region leader.
“There are no days off in this region,” North Hall coach Kristi House said. “Every night is going to be a battle and very important. (Cherokee Bluff’s) not your typical first-year team.”
The Lady Bears (10-8, 2-4) had a chance to send the game to overtime but could not get a shot off in the final 4 seconds as North Hall was able to bat away two passes as time ran out.
“They play hard and have some scorers and play good defense,” House said of the Lady Bears. “They beat Dawson so you know they have the ability to beat anybody. But I was proud of how we responded.”
The Lady Bears exploded off the opening tip running out to a 7-0 lead in the first three minutes on a 3-pointer from Chelsea Reece and a basket by Timber Gaither. The Lady Trojans also were ice cold from the floor as well missing their first seven shots.
But a basket and two free throws from Grace Hollifield broke the drought, which also ignited a 10-2 North Hall run, capped by a Macy Clark 3-pointer to give the Lady Trojans a 10-9 lead. North Hall hit 8 of their next 11 shots.
That started a series where the two teams traded the lead six times over a 2:44 span, with North Hall getting another 10-2 run for a 23-16 advantage after a Rylee McCall 3-pointer.
Cherokee Bluff pulled back within 26-24 midway through the second quarter on an Alexis Mize layup but the Lady Bears were held scoreless over the final 3:45 of the half as North Hall took a 29-24 lead into the intermission.
Cherokee Bluff opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run to reclaim the lead 30-29 but North Hall answered with a 7-0 spurt to run out to a 36-30 lead by the end of a hard-nosed defensive period where the two teams combined for just 13 total points.
The Bluff answered that with its big run and looked ready to claim its second ranked victim in as many games. But they could not hold off a furious North Hall charge and could not muster a shot on the game’s final possession.
“The girls played hard and I was extremely happy with their effort for a young team,” Bluff coach Lindsay Justice said. “We had a chance at the end and that’s all you can ask for. We didn’t execute at the end this time but I do feel the girls are learning and maturing.”
A key was North Hall holding the Lady Bears’ main inside force, Madi Phillips, to just 2 points for the game.
Gaither paced Cherokee Bluff with 16 points. Maddie Thomas finished with 15 for the Lady Bears.
Hollifield led North Hall with 14 points. Ansleigh Ferguson added 9 points and McCall 7 points for the Lady Trojans.
NORTH HALL BOYS 60
CHEROKEE BLUFF 46
What a difference having a complete team can mean.
The Trojans (7-11, 3-3 Region 7-3A) won their second straight region contest and fourth game in the last six overall with one of their more solid performances of the season.
North Hall used a 13-2 second-quarter run to grab a 23-17 lead and the Bears (10-8, 2-4) never led again. Cherokee Bluff did cut it to one at 25-24 and to two at 47-45 in the fourth quarter but could not get the tying or go-ahead basket.
Offensively it was just the second time on the season the Trojans hit the 60-point mark and the first since taking a 76-53 win over White County way back on Nov. 27.
Defensively, however, they held a good Cherokee Bluff offense to its lowest output of the season. The Bears did not record a field goal over the final 4:20 and had just one skinny free throw over the final 2:33 of the game.
“Just a great effort by our guys,” North Hall coach Tyler Sanders said. “We played defense the entire game. To hold a team like that to just 46 points is a commendable effort by the entire group.”
Sanders, whose team climbed into fourth place in a rugged Region 7-3A with the victory, said having a full roster is finally starting to pay dividends.
“We’ve just now, in the last week or so, been able to have all 15 guys available for practice so that we can work on the things as a team we need to do to be able to be successful,” he said. “This may be the best game we’ve played all year and being able to have full practices is a big reason why.”
The Trojans jumped out to a 7-0 lead but it took nearly five minutes, capped by a Daniel Jackson 3-pointer. The Bears needed just two minutes to erase it powered by three consecutive 3-pointers from Neville Griffin to grab an 11-7 lead. Bosko Norman converted a basket to open the second quarter for the Bears biggest lead of the night at 15-10.
But North Hall responded with its decisive run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Luke Gunter and Drew Faulkner. The Trojans led by nine, 40-31, early in the third quarter but the Bears chipped away and Norman pulled them within 47-45 with 4:20 left.
But a Griffin free throw was all Cherokee Bluff could manage the rest of the way. The Trojans did open the door several times over the final four minutes hitting just 7-of-18 free throws but the Bears offense went cold.
Jackson, who finished with 14 points to lead North Hall, put the stamp on the win with a dunk with 17 seconds left. Gunter added 12 points, J.T. Fair had 8, and Luke Volle had a key finish with 6 points, all in the final period.
Norman led all scorers with 18 points. Griffin finished with 14 points but had just one field goal in the second half for the Bluff.