CENTRE - Cherokee County senior basketball guard Tony Pruitt enjoyed his Christmas break, but he was itching to get back on the court in a meaningful game.
It had been almost two weeks since the Warriors last played one, but Pruitt more than made up for lost time on the court Friday. He scored 33 points (23 in the second half) to go along with 12 rebounds, two assists, a steal and block in leading the Warriors to a 72-59 victory over Class 4A, Area 11 rival Jacksonville.
"Coach (Neal Wester) wanted us to enjoy Christmas, but he still wanted us to have basketball on our minds," Pruitt said. "We came in and ran. I stayed in the gym with my cousins and they helped me with my shot. I was ready to get back in the gym."
As important as Pruitt's contributions were to the Warriors (7-5, 3-0) on Friday, it was the elevated games from several other Cherokee County players that proved just as important.
Joel Wester netted 11 points, including a pair of treys. Nahum Horton and Wade Griffith both came away with nine points. Horton also had seven boards. Darius Covington finished with six points, three steals and a pair of assists.
"We're so much better when we have three or four guys right in that 10-point range," Wester said. "Of course, it helps when you've got a dynamic scorer like Tony who gives you 33. It was just a very impressive performance by him, but our other guys defensively played their butts off. Number 4 (Cam Horton) and number 1 (Sid Thurmond) are really, really good players. Number 4 had 34 Thursday night, and we held him to 20 tonight. He earned every one of those, but our guys really fought."
Cherokee County jumped out on an 8-2 run to begin the game, but Jacksonville (7-8, 0-4) rallied to take a 16-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter. The Golden Eagles led by a bucket at 28-26 at intermission.
An 8-2 run to begin the third gave the Warriors 34-30 advantage with just over six minutes remaining. They maintained a 3-point edge at 46-43 heading into the fourth.
That's when Pruitt took the game in his hands. He netted 14 points in the fourth, including three of his four 3-pointers.
"Toward the fourth quarter, I just knew it was crunch time," Pruitt said. "Coach asked us in the fourth quarter 'Are you tough enough to push yourself mentally and physically?' We just got it done."
As Wester mentioned, the Warrior defense also came alive.
After a bucket by the Golden Eagles' Vonte LaCount to open the fourth, Cherokee County held Jacksonville scoreless for almost three minutes after that. By that point, the Warriors had already built a 56-45 advantage.
"I was just really proud of our toughness," Wester said. "That was very good for me to see."
In addition to Horton's 20 points (including three treys), Thurmond added 18 points, five steals and four assists. Tay Ackles contributed 10 points and seven boards. LaCount finished with six points.
Jacksonville 70, Cherokee County 58
CENTRE - For the majority of their game against Class 4A, Area 11 rival Jacksonville on Friday, the Cherokee County Lady Warriors held their own. However, the Lady Warriors missed several scoring chances and committed crucial turnovers down the stretch that allowed Jacksonville to escape with a 70-58 victory.
"We had a few opportunities there at the end where we had a couple of huge steals and turned them into points to get within four, and I thought we were going to have an opportunity to get closer, but then we followed that up with a couple of turnovers that they turned into points. I felt that was what kind of what sealed it for them," Lady Warrior coach Leah Monteith Goss said.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way they played. I really felt like this was sort of a turning point for us in our season. We had a plan, went out and executed that plan to the best that we could, but we missed 14 free throws. That could have been the difference in the game right there. Turnovers in the second half really hurt us too, but overall, I felt like as a team we played probably one of the best games we've played all year."
Cherokee County (6-7, 1-2) led 16-13 at the end of the first quarter and took a 30-26 advantage into the locker room at halftime, but Jacksonville (11-4, 3-0) rallied to go ahead 45-43 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Golden Eagles built a nine-point cushion at 56-47 with 4:34 remaining in the fourth on a 3-pointer by Ataliya Morgan, but the Lady Warriors didn't back down.
Three free throws by Jessen Burk and a steal and a bucket by Raven Williams with 4:06 left cut Jacksonville's lead to 56-52.
However, as Monteith Goss mentioned, the Lady Warriors made several crucial miscues down the stretch and closed out the game on a 14-6 run for the final.
Burk led the Lady Warriors with 20 points and five assists. Williams contributed 14 points, eight boards and five steals. Autumn Aloi added 10 points and eight rebounds. Haley Welsh also had10 points, including three treys. Keishona Midcalf finished with four points and six boards. Jennie Price also had six rebounds.
Virginia Poe posted a game-high 22 points for the Lady Golden Eagles. She connected on five 3-pointers and also had six rebounds, five steals and a pair of assists. Angel Kidd contributed 14 points, including an 8-of-10 performance at the free-throw line. She also had nine assists and three steals. Dasia Kirksey added 10 points. Sierra Stone netted seven points. Morgan finished with six points and three steals.