The 14-3 Bulldogs, rated 10th in Class 3A, trailed the hustling Braves at every break, but managed to overcome an early 14-0 deficit, and outscored the Braves 16-14 in the fateful fourth quarter to sneak away with the win.
Cherokee was victimized not only by the talented Bulldogs, but by blatantly poor officiating at critical times that turned the game away from the Braves and towards Le Mars.
The result affected the Braves inside game throughout, with 6-7 junior center Brock Dagel forced to the bench for much of the game due to foul trouble before fouling out early in the fourth period. Dagel had six blocked shots in his short minutes of play.
Without Dagel's presence, the Bulldogs inside duo of 6-7 Paxton Strub and 6-5 Austin Homan had their way, with Strub leading the Le Mars scoring with 14 points, and Homan 12. Sam VanWettering tallied 13 for Le Mars, and Chance Grady had 12.
Kyle Schuck led Cherokee's scoring with 12 points, while Matt Pitts, Cody Ege, and Seth Mahnke each tallied eight. Schuck also had eight rebounds, Ege had seven, and Mahnke five. Ege led in assists with four and Pitts had three. Ege also had seven steals.
Cherokee led 18-10 after the first period, and 31-25 at halftime, before Le Mars closed it to 43-42 heading into the last quarter.
"Le Mars is a tough opponent and a quality program. We knew they would charge out in the second half and try to catch up. We did a good job of weathering that storm and keeping a lead going into the fourth quarter. Both teams really battled in the fourth quarter and, unfortunately, we came up just a little short."
The Braves had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but a three-pointer from Mahnke just missed as time expired and the officials raced out of the gym.
Cherokee sank 22-51 field goals for 43 percent, and was 2-8 on threeballs. The Braves meshed 11-13 free throws.
Le Mars made 19-47 shots for 40 percent, and was 3-7 from the three-point line. The Bulldogs made 17-30 free throws, with 17 more attempts than the Braves, another telling factor in the questiuonable officiating throughout the game.
Cherokee (13-6) plays dangerous South O'Brien (14-4) in Paullina Monday night in first-round Class 2A action beginning at 7 p.m. The Wolverines beat the Braves 46-41 on Jan. 16 in Paullina.