CLEVELAND — The Cinderella story continued for the White County boys Tuesday night while the Jekyll-and-Hyde season is also ongoing for Cherokee Bluff.
And both scenarios are leaving their respective coaches almost at a loss for words.
The Warriors rallied from 10-points down in the second half to knock off the Bears, 53-46, at the White County gym that left White County (12-5, 9-1 Region 7-3A) standing all alone in first place in Region 7-3A. The 12 wins also matched last year’s entire win total with a week still left and region and possible state tournaments still to come.
“These kids just play hard,” White County coach Robbie Bailey said. “We didn’t play real well in the first half. Their press bothered us in the first half.
“But we talked at halftime about just slowing things down, making better passes. I thought we did that.”
The loss pushed Cherokee Bluff (11-10, 6-2 Region 7-3A) into a tie for second place with Dawson County and facing the possibility of almost having to win out to grab one of the coveted top spots. They take on Dawson County next week at home in what will probably decide second place, barring an upset to Lumpkin County on Thursday.
The Warriors take on winless West Hall on Friday and can clinch no worse than second place with a win. They swept Dawson County during the season and split with the Bears.
The top two teams at the end of the regular season will get automatic berths into the semifinals of the region tournament and automatic bids into the state tournament.
Bluff came in averaging just under 70 points a game but was held to just 16 second half points.
“We’re playing hard but not necessarily that well right now,” Bluff coach Benjie Wood said. “Give credit to White County. They’re tough as nails but when you only scratch out 16 points (in a half) it’s hard to win. For some reason we’ve been slow starting the third quarter all year. Same thing tonight. We got some good looks, the shots just didn’t fall.”
The first quarter was a battle of runs as White County stormed out to a 5-0 lead in the first minute. But the Bears press was tough to crack as Bluff answered with an 11-1 run fueled by four Warriors turnovers.
Bluff led 14-8 after the first quarter and quickly extended it to 18-8 early in the second and 24-14 on a Shad Dabney 3-pointer. White County used a 7-0 run to pull within 24-21 but the Bears eventually took a 30-22 lead into the intermission.
Bluff forced seven Warriors turnovers in the first half that led to 10 points. The second half was a complete role reversal for both teams.
After Corey Thomas gave the Bears a 32-22 lead to open the third quarter, White County went to work with its revamped game plan. Jaden Yeh scored five straight points and a four-point play by Silas Mulligan pulled the Warriors within 32-31.
Yeh, who finished with 16 points to lead White County, converted one of five Bluff turnovers in the quarter into a fastbreak basket for a 33-32 lead and the Warriors never trailed again. White County held the Bears to just 6 third quarter points and took a 39-36 advantage into the fourth quarter.
A Cade Simmons 3-pointer tied the game at 39 for Bluff to open the final period but a 9-2 answer by White County, sparked by Yeh and Mulligan, gave the Warriors just enough of a cushion.
Bluff got within 48-46 with 1:15 left on a Thomas trey but White County hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal it.
Mulligan added 15 points and Cooper Turner had 8 for White County.
Simmons paced Bluff with 12 points and Thomas had 10.
“This was a big win for us,” Bailey said. “We’re going to enjoy this one. But we still have work to do. We got two games left and we need to get ready for those.”
WHITE COUNTY GIRLS 61,
CHEROKEE BLUFF 58
The Lady Warriors avoided a big upset bid at home.
White County (10-7, 9-1 Region 7-3A) came in sitting atop the Region 7-3A standings but had to rally from seven-points down to get the win. They used a 15-3 run to erase a 49-42 deficit, capped by a stick-back basket from Maddie Futch to retake the lead, 52-51, for good.
Futch paced White County with 21 points, 15 coming in the second half as she and Dasha Cannon fueled the rally. Cannon finished with 10 points but hit a big 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter and dished out 3 assists during the rally.
The Lady Bears (6-15, 1-7 Region 7-3A) got a huge game from Timber Gaither, who poured in 21 points. But after an 18-point explosion in the first half, she was held to just one basket in the second half.
Cherokee Bluff trailed early but used a big second quarter to tie the game at 30 by halftime. The Lady Bears then used a 12-2 run in the third and fourth quarters to take a 49-42 lead.
But Cannon’s 3-pointer pulled White County back to within 49-45 and the Lady Warriors defense held the Lady Bears to just one free throw over a four minute stretch while staging the comeback.
Caitlyn Gaither also had 10 points for White County. Naomi Roberts had 9 points for the Lady Warriors.
Alexis Mize added 16 points for Cherokee Bluff. But like Gaither, Mize was held to just six points in the second half after a big first half.