The grit and spit of the fast-improving Cherokee Braves was highly evident throughout a major barn-burner with a tough Le Mars here Friday night, before the fortunate Bulldogs escaped with a 54-51 Lakes Conference win.
The 3-1 Bulldogs, with a lone loss to ranked Sioux City North and victories over Sioux City Heelan and Sioux City East, had their hands full with the feisty Braves (0-3), who seem to be finally figuring out the amount of intensity and fortitude necessary to compete in the rugged Lakes Conference night in and out.
Cherokee led 13-10 after the first quarter, and the teams were tied at 33-all at halftime, before Le Mars eked out a 44-42 lead after three frames. The teams battled tooth and nail down the stretch, with the three-man officiating crew content with the physical, bumping, grinding, hacking defense employed by the visitors. The big bummer here is Le Mars shot 13 more free throws than the Braves. Go figure.
Cory Ege, the best player on the court, led the Braves with 23 game-high points, while the Bulldogs' acclaimed Jared Clement scored 22, including 15 in the first half. Tyler Jones added 14 for Cherokee, and Josh Mugge added nine in a yeoman role at both ends of the court. Bryan Borchers, the 6-5 Le Mars post, tallied 12 points.
Cherokee sank 18-57 field goals for 35 percent, including 7-22 three-pointers. Le Mars made 16-40 field goals for 40 percent, and notched 5-12 three-balls. Cherokee was 8-17 from the free throw line, while Le Mars was 17-30, a perplexing statistic for the Braves, considering the way the game was played, that was vital to the outcome.
Ege led WHS on the boards with six rebounds, while Evan Meyer and Mugge snagged five each, and Matt Koch four. Jones led the hosts in assists with four, and Ege and Michael Boothby had three each. Ege also had three steals.
"We're getting better but it's still not a 'W,'" said Cherokee coach Trent Coombs. "We have a few things to work on but I'm very proud of my team. I have no negatives from the last two games.
"If we keep on doing what we're doing, the wins will come. The guys are figuring out their roles and that's bringing us along. We've lost to three real good teams and we're rounding into a real good team. The potential is there."
The Braves travel to Spencer Tuesday night for another rough Lakes battle.