Cherokee's battling Braves withstood the quality Le Mars Bulldogs' best shot in the pivotal fourth quarter to claim a tense, thrilling 53-50 Lake Conference boys basketball victory here on Dec. 5.
Leading 46-33 heading into the last period, the Braves conked seven of eight free throws in the final eight minutes to hand the hustling Bulldogs of former Cherokee coach Dave Irwin the keys to the win, only to see warrior Kyle Schuck and the opportunistic, explosive Cody Ege come up with game-changing plays to secure the Cherokee victory and move the impressive Braves to a 2-0 record this early season.
After Le Mars had fought back in the final frame to take a one-point lead (50-49), thanks to Cherokee turnovers and missed free throws, Schuck put the team on his back with a superb rebound and a put-back basket that gave the Braves a 51-50 lead in the closing seconds. Then Ege, who after the game admitted he had been gauging the offensive tendencies of his opponent throughout the game, stepped up to make a steal off the dribble and then raced down court for a lay-up that clinched the victory.
And the cream always rises to the top.
Sophomore post, 6-7 Brock Dagel, who improves nightly in front of your eyes, led the Braves with 12 points, including 6-7 critical free throws. Senior guard Tyler Jones, fighting the effects of the flu, added 11 and an impressive defensive effort as one of the Braves' floor leaders. Matt Koch, who excels in all positions, tallied 10 points, and Ege added seven and Matt Pitts five for the winners.
Koch also led Cherokee with seven rebounds, while Schuck added six, and Dagel five as the Braves won the board battle. Both teams lacked in free throw efficiency, with Cherokee hitting 12-25, and Le Mars 15-25.
Ege led the winners in steals with five, and Koch had four. Ege also led in assists with four, and Jones and Schuck each registered two.
On top of it all, the Braves fought foul trouble throughout the second half, with four Braves whistled with two fouls in the first half and Nick Parker whistled with three.
Cherokee led 28-20 at halftime and ballooned that to 46-33 after three, only to see it all boil down to the Schuck, Ege, Pitts heroics in the fourth.
"We played good defense and showed our mental toughness," added Smith. "Our guys competed. It would have been easy to fold after blowing that fourth-quarter lead, but they stepped up and then Cody got that steal to ice it. These guys listen and they take care of the ball."