Just two Cherokee County teams remain as the basketball state playoffs move on to the quarterfinals this week.
The girls from Cherokee and Creekview each survived close games last week to stay alive, and both will have the benefit of playing at home, as the Lady Warriors (26-3) host Rockdale County Tuesday, and the Lady Grizzlies (24-5) get a visit from Forest Park Wednesday.
“It’s a big deal,” Cherokee coach Matt Cates said. “We preach to our kids all year how important it is. We traveled last year and some other years in the quarterfinals. It’s definitely different when you have to travel. Hopefully, we have a big crowd, an we can feed off that.”
Cherokee pulled away late last week to beat Pebblebrook 69-63 in a game that was tied in the final minute.
They will face a Lady Bulldogs (18-12) team that is accustomed to those kinds of games, though, after winning their first two playoff games by a combined eight points, and Cates said he would not be surprised if this game came down to the wire too.
“When you get to the quarterfinals,everybody is good,” he said. “You’re not going to have any easy games. They’re very athletic. They play really hard. They’re well coached. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”
Ashlyn Andrus broke out for a game-high 30 points to lead the Lady Warriors to their 19th straight win. Sydne Watts and Olivia Herrera also reached double figures.
Rockdale County also has a trio of players averaging better than 10 points per game in Shaquice May, Kourtian Carter and Diamond Swift, but handling their defensive pressure better than it did last week could be the bigger key for Cherokee.
“We try to take all the film from every game and try to improve,” Cates said. “We want to make less mistakes than we did last week. At this point, we’re basically trying to hone in on the things we do well. We practiced our press break and the things we do off that. We just have to execute.”
Creekview also advanced to the quarterfinals by holding off a late push in a 55-47 win over Langston Hughes.
The Lady Grizzlies will face a tougher test this week against the Lady Panthers (26-4), who dominated Richmond Hill 59-7 in the second round.
“They’re really good,” Creekview coach Roger Nolan said. “With their height, they can really change the game. They can change everything you want to do, so we have to be ready to adjust.”
Forest Park will have a significant size advantage thanks to the presence of 6-foot-4 forwards Destiny Thomas and Sania Feagin and 6-foot-2 forward Jasmine Stevens in the post.
That could cause the Lady Grizzlies to stray away from leading scorer Josie Johnson some, as they place more focus on finding outside shots.
“We won’t be able to attack the basket like we normally do,” Nolan said. “If we do, they’re going to block it. We have to be disciplined enough to take good jumpers. We have to get open 3-pointers. I’ve been on them about shot selection, but we have to take and make some to have a puncher’s chance to beat them.”
Combatting that height will be just as important on the defensive end.
Nolan said keeping the ball out of the post will be important, but it will be just as critical to limit the Lady Panthers to one shot per possession.
“One of the reasons we were able to beat Langston Hughes was our rebounding,” he said. “They were a really good rebounding team, but we just gave them one shot at a time. We were physical and boxed out. We have to find a way to do that again.”