By SHAWN CROWE
The 2011-2012 Cherokee High School Lady Braves Basketball team’s (25-6) season came to an end at the hands of six-time defending state champions, the Bishop McGinness Villains (26-5). It took an overtime session to decide who would go to Chapel Hill on Saturday March 10th and the Villains prevailed 51-45.
In Thursday’s game on March 1 for the North Carolina High School Athletic Associations (NCHSAA) 1A Sectional Championship, the Lady Braves faced a Smoky Mountain Conference foe, the Murphy Lady Bulldogs (15-14). The Lady Braves had won both regular season meetings against the Lady Bull Dogs and with the parings not being flipped like it was in the 2011 tournament; this game would decide the Sectional Champion.
The Lady Braves started out strong behind the three point shooting of Jordan Thompson who hit three quick three pointers and but the Lady Braves up 6 and at the end of the first quarter the score was 19-13 Cherokee.
The Lady Bulldogs behind their three seniors, Katrina Evans (17), Jordan Lovingood (10) and Jackie Parks (17) were not going to go away and with their size was able to match Cherokee’s outside shooting with their inside game. Murphy put up 13 points in the second quarter as did Cherokee and at the Half the Lady Braves were up by six 32-26.
Earlier in the week Murphy Head Coach Cissy Dyer was quoted as saying, “We’ve started playing a little better with a real sense of urgency.” That urgency pushed the Lady Dogs in the second half and they played with the Lady Braves down to the wire and at one time cut the lead to two in the fourth quarter. But two was as close as Murphy would get.
That’s when Cherokee Freshman sensation Kendall Toineeta took over. Toineeta put up 27 points for the game and grabbed 10 rebounds and played like an upperclassman as she hit layups and three pointers down the stretch to put the Lady Braves up for good and Cherokee moved on the regional final with a 57-46 win over Murphy. Avery Mintz would finish with 7 points and 17 rebounds, Jordan Thompson had 9 points and Alexis Maney had 7.
Up next for the Lady Braves six time defending state champion Bishop McGinness High School.
In last year’s regional semi-final game the Lady Braves found out first hand why Bishop McGinness had won the last five state championships. McGinness a private school located in Greensboro is a Catholic feeder school that has had 39 of their 47 varsity players come from their feeder program. Bishops Head Coach, Brian Robinson is in his 10th year at the school and has a record of 228-49. The program has not had a shortage of players and for the last six years the Villains have sent several players to the college ranks and one of those players is Megan Buckland of the class of 2011 who is a redshirt freshman for the University of North Carolina Lady Tarheel’s.
All year the Lady Braves have been slow starters in most of the games they have played and Saturday was no exception. The Villains jumped out to an early lead behind the post play of center Cameron Nieters (11points) and the outside shooting of Sammi Goldsmith (14 points) and at the end of the first quarter the lead was 5, with the score 14-9.
In the second quarter Cherokee outscored Bishop 11-9 behind the play of Avery Mintz who led all scorers with 16. In the first half Cherokee shot 34.8% from the field but only 22.2 percent from the free throw line and at the end of the first half Bishop led 23-20.
The second half was much like the first; the Lady Braves had their opportunities to take advantage of the 11 Bishop turnovers but could only convert the turnovers into 7 points and Bishop built their largest lead of the night which was 9 points at the 3:40 mark of the 3rd period. The Lady Braves had 15 turnovers and the Villains converted those turnovers into 17 points which helped the Villains build their lead, and the Lady Braves who never led in this game trailed by four at the end of the third quarter 34-30.
In the fourth quarter Cherokee picked up the intensity on defense with their press and forced the Lady Villains to turn the ball over and cut the lead to 2 points. The score was 42-40 with 14 seconds left when Cherokee sophomore Avery Mintz hit a layup in the lane to tie the score at 42. Bishop got the ball down the floor and Freshman Kendall Toineeta knocked the ball out of bounds and Cherokee took a timeout to set up the inbounds defense. Bishop inbounded the ball after the timeout and got a 7 foot jump shot for the win, but came up short and the game went to overtime.
In the four minute overtime Bishop had the first four points and Cherokee again struggled from the floor shooting the ball and with time running out Cherokee had to foul the Villains to extend the game and Bishop hit their free throws for the win. The Final score was Bishop McGinness 51 Cherokee 45. The Lady Brave’s magical season comes to an end once again at the hands of Bishop McGinness. The story from the stat line was the Lady Braves were 7 of 19 from the free throw line and Bishop was 14 of 24. Bishop had 16 offensive rebounds to Cherokee’s 11. Also second chance points were a big story as Bishop had 19 to Cherokee’s 7. The leading scorer for the Villains was Sammi Goldsmith with 14.
Head Coach of the Lady Braves Chris Mintz said after the game. “We just didn’t shoot well here this weekend and with a team like Bishop you have to step up and be able to make shots. We weren’t afraid of them (Bishop) we had them frazzled, we just didn’t take advantage of it. Our locker room is pretty down right now but I told our girls I was proud of them for playing hard and for the seniors we gave it a good shot.” When asked about next year Mintz commented, “I told our seniors that they’ve laid the groundwork. The challenge to the rest of our players is how hard are they willing to work? How hard will they work so that we score a few more points and get a few more rebounds the next time we’re in a game like this.”
Three Lady Braves were chosen for the Regional all Tournament Team and they were: Senior Guard Liz Wahnetah, Sophomore Forward Avery Mintz and Freshman Guard Kendall Toineeta. The Lady Braves will graduate three seniors: Liz Wahnetah, Meshay Long and Shayna Ledford. What a year for the Lady Braves as they come up one game short of a state championship bid. The Lady Braves and their Coaches Chris Mintz, Trace Rogers, Peaches Squirrel, Kara Swimmer and Shawn Crowe would like to thank all of the Lady Brave’s parents and fans for all of their support this past season.
We would also like to pass on a belated congratulation to the 2011-2012 Cherokee Braves who had a great season as well. The Braves advanced to the sectional semi-final game against the Hayesville Yellow Jackets. The Braves will graduate six seniors; Tsalidi Sequoyah, Jeremy Wolfe, Taylor Toineeta, Game McMillian, CJ Yates and Forrest Stamper. Sequoyah finished his career at Cherokee scoring over 1000 points and led the Smoky Mountain Conference in rebounding and scoring most of the 2012 season. Sequoyah has committed to Western Carolina University as a preferred walk on for the 2012-2013 season.
Congratulations to the Cherokee Lady Braves and the Cherokee Braves for a great 2011-2012 season!