As it turned out, Tommy Lewis’ alma mater will have to wait another 12 months for the opportunity to bring home the county’s first place trophy.
Sparked by a strong second quarter run, No. 1 seed Cherokee Co. (16-4, 3-2) posted a 69-48 boys county final win over Spring Garden (13-8, 5-2) last Saturday at Cedar Bluff.
The Panthers held their own in the early going, as Spring Garden fought back from an 11-2 first quarter de-ficit to take a 19-17 lead on Cliff Highfield’s basket 38 seconds into the second period.
The Class 3A No. 7 Warriors, however, were just war-ming up for the evening.
Reggie Dupree’s jump shot at 6:53 of the second frame and Quentin Price’s three-point basket 24 seconds later began a 20-6 stretch that put Spring Garden in a double-digit hole and gave the Centre squad the advantage for good.
Tournament MVP Reggie Dupree led the Warriors with 23 points while dishing out seven assists and grabbing six rebounds.
Zac Morgan added 14 points and five boards for CCHS.
Matt Jennings was the Panthers’ high scorer with nine, while Gamble chipped in eight. Andrew Morris had seven rebounds.
Dupree noted that his team didn’t hit the panic button while Spring Garden held its brief lead.
“We just played the same way that we’ve been playing all year. We stayed calm, kept the same tempo and didn’t get out of our game plan, and we were able to pull it out.”
Lewis said that going into the game, his main concern was the strength of Spring Garden’s inside game led by Highfield and Gamble.
“We’ve had a rough couple of weeks with [junior center] Kyle [Wilson] out with an injury and Keilan [Wright] getting hurt in practice a few days ago,” said Lewis, who now has nine county championships to his credit (four at CCHS, four at Spring Garden and one while coaching Gaylesville). Those guys were doing a good job for us inside. The game was very close for a while until we got some separation in the second quarter and we got some quick baskets. Reggie really stepped it up tonight and did a good job of scoring and dishing the ball around. Winning county definitely makes up a little bit for losing Kyle and Keilan.”
“[CCHS] has great athletes and a great coach, which is a tough combo to beat,” said Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard. “They are a good ball team and did what it took to win tonight. We played hard, and if we didn’t miss seven straight [three-point basket attempts] during the second quarter, we could have kept [the CCHS lead] at single digits at halftime. We didn’t do that, and [CCHS] is a tough team to overcome with a double-digit lead.”
After Dupree’s basket at 4:50 of the first quarter capped the Warriors’ opening 11-2 run, two treys from Gamble and one from Jennings helped draw the Panthers within 13-12 at 2:18, while Joe Smith’s three-pointer with two seconds left forced a 17-17 tie.
Highfield’s lay-up at 7:22 of the second frame made it 19-17 in favor of the Pan-thers, but the Warriors’ subsequent run provided the Centre squad with a 12-point halftime lead.
CCHS continued to pour it on early in the second half, as the Warriors opened the third period with four consecutive three-pointers that helped pushed the CCHS lead to 55-31 after 24 minutes.
The Panthers outscored the Warriors 17-14 in the final frame, but Cherokee Co. was well on its way to hoisting its fifth straight county basketball title.
Joining Dupree on the All-Tournament were Price, Morgan, Smith, Highfield and Cedar Bluff’s Jeremy Bryant.
CCHS (69): Zac Morgan 14, Quentin Price 9, Nick Wheeler 7, Jeremy Rieger 6, Lee Morgan 3, Chris Dupree 3, Cadarris Rucker 2, Damien Chambers 2.
SPRING GARDEN (48): Matt Jennings 9, Cliff Highfield 8, Terrill Gamble 8, Justin Dingler 7, Joe Smith 6, Josh Humphrey 4, Adam Law 4, Adam Maddox 2