Saturday marked the third straight season the two teams have faced each other in the Cherokee Invitational girls basketball final. Cherokee County won the first meeting in 2010, while the Lady Bobcats laid claim to the title last season.
But their latest meeting may have been their most thrilling battle yet.
Class 4A, No. 8 Cherokee County built an 11-point halftime advantage and held a nine-point cushion going into the fourth quarter, but Class 2A’s top-ranked team rallied to overcome those deficits to take a 64-61 victory and improve to 11-0.
“I thought they showed a lot of resiliency throughout the whole game,” Woodland coach Larry Strain said. “This thing could have gotten away from us in the first half, but I felt like our kids kept fighting. We got in foul trouble, and I was down to about my ninth and 10th player at some point, even though I still had a lot of my starters on the floor. I just told my kids to never quit fighting, and I think they did that.”
Woodland junior guard Shanna Strain was a prime example of her coach’s point.
After getting into first-half foul trouble, it was her 3-pointer, ensuing steal and layup late in the game that turned the tide for the Lady Bobcats. Her buckets put Woodland up 60-58 and put the pressure on the Lady Warriors (12-3) with 2:37 left on the clock.
“That was crucial,” Coach Strain said. “She didn’t get to play a whole lot early. In the first half, she had three fouls on her, then bang. We got her back on the floor and she gives us a little bit of speed and quickness. She’s the one who shoots the three most of the time. She didn’t want to lay down. She gave us a spark when she came off the bench.”
Woodland went on to take a 62-58 lead with 1:08 remaining after junior guard Leah Strain connected on a pair of free throws, but the Lady Warriors pulled to within a point at 62-61 following Cherokee County senior guard Darbie Rosser’s 3-pointer with 28.2 seconds to go.
Woodland’s Shalyn Strain drew another Lady Warrior foul with 19.6 seconds remaining. She sank both shots at the line to put the Lady Bobcats back up by three, and Woodland’s defense forced a Lady Warrior turnover to run out the clock.
“We didn’t take care of the ball at the end of the game,” Cherokee County coach Travis Barnes said. “We turned it over when we didn’t need to, but that doesn’t take away from the effort of our girls. We played a great game. It was probably one of our better games of the year.
“You’ve got to hand it to Woodland. They know how to win, and they know how to finish games. That’s what they did. They hit shots when they had to. Defensively, I thought we did a pretty good job, but you’re not going to hold an offensive team like that down for four quarters. We held them down for two quarters, but third quarter and the fourth quarter they started playing better.”
Shanna Strain provided the spark the Lady Bobcats were looking for, but it was junior guard Leah Strain who stoked the fire the entire game. She scored a game-high 35 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“We had our backs against the wall,” Leah Strain said. “We had a slow start, and Coach Strain’s always taught us not to give up. That’s kind of what we did. We just kept going out and fighting hard.
“I thought Shanna had some big plays. We missed her in the first half because she was in foul trouble, but she came back and hit her shots. She hit some threes. She made some big defensive stops. Jaide Walker also had some big plays. She hit some threes, had her dribble-penetration and hit some off the glass. Amy (Strain) and Shalyn had some big plays as well. It’s definitely a team effort.”
Shanna Strain added eight points for the Lady Bobcats. Amy Strain and Walker both contributed seven points. Shalyn Strain finished with four points.
The Woodland win spoiled a 24-point, 10-rebound performance by Lady Warrior senior forward Tori Davis and a 19-point effort from junior guard Jessen Burk.
“Tori was a factor on defense and a factor on offense. I don’t think she had a foul all game. She changed shots. She rebounded well. She really showed up to play. Offensively, she was our go-to girl all night. They didn’t have anybody who could stop her.”
Burk, who’s been battling sickness the past couple of days, connected on four 3-pointers. Barnes described her performance as “gutsy.”
“I think she felt worse tonight than she did last night,” he said. “When I asked her if she needed a break, she said ‘No sir, I don’t.’ You could tell she didn’t feel well, but it was a real gutsy performance by her.”
Barnes also praised Rosser, who finished with 10 points.
“The best thing Darbie did tonight was she really attacked the basket. She’s usually more of a set shooter, but I saw her getting to the basket and dishing off to Tori some. She played probably her best game defensively as well as offensively.”
Cherokee County held a 14-8 lead at the end of the first quarter and stretched its advantage to 36-25 at halftime. The Lady Warriors led 54-45 at the end of the third quarter, setting the stage for Woodland’s comeback.
“We always know when we come up here there’s going to be tough competition,” Leah Strain said. “It’s good basketball up here. Back where we’re from, basketball is not that good. It’s definitely a goal of ours to win this tournament every year. We’re just blessed and thankful we did get to win again.”
Girls Consolation Game
Glencoe 48, Spring Garden 39
CENTRE – Hope Gaskin netted 13 points and Laura Poovey posted 12 points to lead Class 3A, No. 8 Glencoe to a 48-39 victory over Class 1A, No. 9 Spring Garden in the Cherokee Invitational Tournament consolation game Saturday.
Sarah Wallace added seven points for the Lady Yellow Jackets (10-4). Haley Motes led Spring Garden (9-7) with 20 points, including three treys, to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Darian Gaines finished with five points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
Glencoe led 12-7 at the end of the first quarter and held a 26-23 halftime advantage. The game remained close through the third quarter, with Glencoe holding a 34-32 lead. The Lady Yellow Jackets went on a 14-7 run in the fourth for the final.
Van Deerman Classic Championship
Gadsden City 51, Piedmont 47
JACKSONVILLE – BreAnna Thompson scored 31 points and Sarah Garner added 10, but their efforts weren’t enough to lead Class 3A, No. 10 Piedmont to victory Saturday. Gadsden City rallied late in the fourth quarter to post a 51-47 win and earn the Van Deerman Classic girls basketball championship.
Piedmont (11-4) returns to action on Jan. 3 when it hosts Anniston.