Pitts, Dagel pace big Cherokee win
Cherokee’s Braves, improving each time out after a disappointing upset loss in the season opener at Lakes Conference rival Storm Lake, ran their early-season record to 3-1 with a quality 62-47 victory over a solid Spencer team here Friday night.
The 2-1 Tigers, averaging 30 three-point shot attempts per game in their first two wins, found the going tough against the feisty Braves’ defense, which limited them to just 14-36 total field goals throughout for a so-so 39 percent shooting effort. Spencer finished 6-16 from the three-point line.
Cherokee sank 18-44 field goals for 41 percent, including a 5-9 night from the three-point arc. Had the Braves made a sufficient number of their free throws, the game would have been decided much earlier than it was, when Cherokee broke from a tense 39-37 lead after three quarters with a 23-10 scoring spurt in the fourth frame to ice it. The Braves led 13-10 after the first quarter and 32-24 at halftime.
All told, the Braves made just 21-43 free throws, not counting the missed front ends of a handful of one-and-ones. To their credit, Cherokee nailed 13-20 free throws in the fourth period, as the Tigers elected to foul rather than give up the open basket to the well-executing Braves.
Senior guard Matt Pitts led Cherokee throughout with a career best 22 points and some solid leadership at crunch time. Junior post Brock Dagel added 18 points, while Seth Mahnke and Kyle Schuck tossed in six apiece.
Josh Bubke paced the Tigers with 13 points, and Jay Monahan added 10.
The Braves let Spencer back in it after taking that 32-24 halftime lead by missing 11 free throws in the third quarter and scoring just seven points in that eight-minute span.
Schuck led the Braves on the boards with 10 rebounds, and Pitts grabbed six. Nick Parker paced the winners in assists with five, and in steals with four.
“This was a good win against a tough team,” said first-year Cherokee coach Bob Lee. “It was closer than what I wanted but we missed too many free throws. Our plan is to get to the line and we did, but we must convert the free throws. I think our guys are starting to enjoy and see the fruits of pressure defense.
“They did things I wanted them to do and played hard against a tough team, but we can do better and will need to do better as the season progresses. Our guys have played a lot of basketball. I’m impressed with this team, and it’s a good win. But we need to take advantage when we can and convert the shots when they’re there.”
The Braves host Hull Western Christian Tuesday and travel to Spirit Lake Friday before the holiday break.