HOLY SMOKES! BRAVES 'UPSET' HWC, 64-63

Friday, February 25, 2022
Joe Benson, Cherokee senior point guard, put up 17 points iincluding five big threes to lead Cherokee to a 64-63 upset win over Hull Western Christian Wednesday night at Sioux City North. The Braves will play in a substate final at LeMars on Saturday night against Centarl Lyon at 7p.m.
Photo By Denny Holton

SIOUX CITY - Go ahead, pinch yourself. It's not a dream, more like a miracle.

Nobody gave Cherokee a snowball's chance in hell to win here Saturday night, but when the final buzzer sounded, Hull-Western Christian players and fans stood like statues, shocked and in disbelief, after witnessing one of the biggest upsets in Cherokee boys' basketball history.

Cherokee's underdog Braves sent HWC's Wolfpack (21-2) packing in a huge Class 2A district final win, sending shockwaves through the halls of HWC with a surprising 64-63 victory on the hardwood at Sioux City North.

In doing so, the 14-10 Braves eliminated the defending state champs and the state's No. 3 ranked 2A team, while setting up Saturday night's substate final game in another "David vs. Goliath" matchup against 21-2 Central Lyon at LeMars. Tip off is 7:00p.m.

It's been a long time coming. The last time Cherokee's boys defeated HWC was in 1984, when Coach Dick Point's Braves claimed a 71-69 overtime win in a 2A district final. The '84 Braves went on to defeat Algona Garrigan in the substate finals 75-74 and earn a berth in the state tournament.

Some are calling Cherokee's win here "a victory for the ages" as loyal Braves' fans went berserk rushing the floor. Grandmas, grandpas, students, moms and dads joined an ecstatic student section on the floor to celebrate. "I believe we just won," they shouted. "I believe we just won!"

"One of the better high school games I've ever seen," said one Cherokee fan, a tear trickling down his cheek. "We should all be proud of how these boys have come together," he said.

The 2021-22 Braves have come together, peaking at the perfect time, putting together a determined and resilient tournament run, fighting off huge odds and persevering.

It wasn't a case that HWC played poorly. Both teams shot well from the floor and played solid defense, but in the end it was senior Jacob Hodgdon's bank shot bucket that proved to be the dagger ending HWC's season.

Hodgdon hung in the air for what seemed like forever, then let fly a short bank shot in the paint. The ball banked off the glass, rolled around the lip of the rim, and fell through the net with 1.8 seconds left. HWC got a final shot, but it was short and over for the heavily favored Wolfpack.

Cherokee senior Joe Benson played perhaps his best game ever, leading the Braves with 17 points, five assists, four steals and three blocked shots and hitting five crucial threes.

It was definitely a team victory as senior Mason Carver came off the bench netting 14 big points, including three timely three point goals. Cherokee got nine points from Hodgdon, while Levi Pingel and Will Lugar put up eight points apiece with Trey Benson netting Cherokee first four points of the game.

Pingel was a work horse on the boards with nine rebounds while hitting 4 of five shots underneath, while Trey Benson played big underneath as well.

Earlier this season, HWC pummeled the Braves twice, winning by 31 at Hull (70-39) and by a whopping 54 points (92-38) on the Braves' home court.

But this is a different Cherokee team today as they have found a new gear, playing team defense and playing with confidence.

Cherokee trailed for most of the game, but were able to keep it close and give themselves a chance. The Wolfpack led 23-18 at the end of the first quarter and held a 35-29 halftime advantage.

The Braves got their first lead of the game on one of Benson's threes, going up 48-47 with under three minutes left in the third quarter. HWC led by just one, 49-48, going into the final eight minutes.

With just 2:00 left in the game, HWC's Ty Van Essen hit two free throws to put his team up by seven, 61-54. Then with only :59.1 ticks left, Benson hit a fade away three from the top of the key bringing the Braves to within two, 61-59.

Another three by the gutsy senior guard with :31 to play kept the Braves within one, 63-62. That set the stage for Hodgdon's heroics and the Cherokee victory.

"This was a total team win and we're coming together at the right time of the year," said a jubilant Cherokee head coach, Mark Hurd. "I thought defensively we were unbelievable and we rebounded well tonight," he said.

Van Essen led the Wolfpack with 22 points, while senior teammate Wyatt Gulker had 14 and Ashtin Van't Hul finished with 11.

HWC shot 44.7% percent from the field (21-47) and went 44.4% from three (8-18) while netting 13-17 free throws (76.5%). Cherokee was 24-44 from the field (54.5%) and 8-22 from three (36.5%), while netting 8-11 free throws (72.7%).

Cherokee owned a slim 24-22 rebound advantage.

Cherokee senior Jacob Hodgdon sank the winning shot for Cherokee in a 64-63 mega upset win over defending state champs Hull Western Christian Wednesday night at Sioux City North. The Braves play for a state tourney on Saturday night in LeMars against Central Lyon at 7p.m.
Photo By Denny Holton
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