CANTON — With the regular season now behind them, the Lady Warriors look primed and ready for a deep postseason run.
Playing at home on senior night, Cherokee defeated Etowah 66-30 on Friday to conclude each team’s regular season schedule. Cherokee (23-2, 10-0) completed an unblemished run within Region 4AAAAAAA and as a result earned the No. 1 seed in this week’s region tournament. The Lady Warriors have already guaranteed themselves a spot in the state playoffs and now will set their sites on winning the program’s fourth consecutive region title. Etowah (11-14, 3-7) finished fifth in the regular season region standings and will play at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night against Walton in the first round of the region tournament.
“It’s always great to win on senior night and with it being against a county and region opponent it always puts a little extra pressure on it,” Cherokee coach Matt Cates said. “We’ve got a few days off now which can be good but it can also be a hindrance. We’ve got to find a way to stay sharp and competitive. I think the girls will do that with each other and that’s the plan.”
In the first meeting between these two teams in early January, Cherokee defeated Etowah 55-24 on the Lady Eagles’ home court but Friday night’s game was anyone’s for the taking after one quarter of play. A basket by Etowah senior Ally Zazzara midway through the first quarter gave Etowah an 8-2 lead but the Lady Warriors chipped back to tie the game 8-8 at the end of the first.
Zazzara, who led Etowah with with 12 points, knocked down a 3-pointer to open the second quarter but from that point on the Lady Warriors showed what has led them to the No. 3 ranking in AAAAAAA. Seven different players scored points during a 25-3 second quarter run as the Lady Warriors displayed the depth which has been a constant throughout the season. Cherokee found contributions from up and down the lineup and took a 33-14 lead into the halftime locker room.
“This is a special senior class but we’ve got a lot of good young kids in there with them,” Cates said. “We’ve got a good mix of kids who can do a lot of different things.”
The six seniors on this year’s Lady Warriors’ roster are the most during Cates’ tenure and each is going on to play a sport on the collegiate level — five on basketball scholarships and one on a softball scholarship. Sydne Watts — a Navy basketball commit — led Cherokee with 14 points on Friday, with 12 coming in the second half.
Fellow senior Ashlyn Andrus — a Limestone College basketball commit — finished with 11 points, including three made 3-pointers, and continued to play like one of the best players in both the county and region.
Cherokee’s athletic versatility is what makes this group distinctive on the court. Chatham Brown — a Shorter University basketball commit — displayed her playmaking and rebounding ability in the second quarter and was followed by junior Kate Johnson’s power and skill in the post.
Cherokee senior Chatham Brown gets her own rebound and scores plus the foul. Knocks down the free throw for a 3-point play.5 min left in fourth @L80warriors 55@EtowahHoops 26 pic.twitter.com/TNSRJVB5pS— Patrick O'Shea (@Patrick_J_OShea) February 1, 2020
Andrus’ outside shooting, a consistent threat all season for Cherokee, was complemented by 3-pointers from Courtney Cates, Lilly Griffith and Haylee Donley. Courtney Cates is committed to play basketball at Peidmont College along with fellow senior Anniston Krapf. Gracie Mixson, an athletic senior off the bench whose defense often leads to transition offense, finished with five points on Friday night and will play softball collegiately at North Georgia.
During the second quarter run, Cherokee moved the ball from side to side against Etowah’s zone defense and found open shots after making the defense work to cover space. Nine different players scored points for Cherokee in Friday night’s win and in their victories this season the Lady Warriors have won by an average score of 62-38. The win was a fitting result for the Cherokee seniors. Now, with the formalities of the regular season behind them, all sites are set on the region championship and beyond.
“You don’t ever want to send the seniors out with a loss on senior night so it’s great to get this win,” Cates said. “This is probably one of my favorite senior groups. All six are continuing their education with sports, which is really unheard of, so I’m very lucky to coach them.”
Cherokee will play at 4.p.m on Thursday at Walton High School in Marietta against the winner of the first round game between Etowah and Walton.