Once the postseason starts, it’s all about matchups, and the Sonoraville Phoenix had a tough one on Wednesday night in the first round of the Class AAA State Tournament.

The Phoenix hosted Cherokee Bluff, who used their speed, athleticism and full-court press defense to cause plenty of problems early for the home team and despite a third-quarter rally, Sonoraville was unable to overcome the deficit as they fell 57-39 to end their season.

Cherokee Bluff (16-11) set the tone early by getting after the Phoenix defensively with their full-court press as they caused several turnovers and turned them into points to lead 16-10 after one quarter and 27-17 at the break.

Sonoraville (20-6) battled back in the third by outscoring the Bears 16-9 in the period to cut the deficit to one at one point in the period and to 36-33 going to the final quarter, but Cherokee Bluff pulled away down the stretch thanks to some big buckets and an 11-of-12 clip from the free throw line in the fourth.

“We’ve gotten off to some pretty good starts at home throughout the season, but tonight we weren’t able to do that and that’s a credit to (Cherokee Bluff),” said Sonoraville head coach Brent Mashburn. “They do a really good job with their style, and they came out early with their press and forced the tempo and really the way the game was going to be played. It took us a little while to settle in and figure out how to deal with it, and this time of year with how good every team is that is left playing, you can’t take that long to settle in. We fought in the second half, but it was too little too late.”

After trailing by 10 at the half, Sonoraville started to cause some issues themselves with their defense in the third quarter, getting several stops in a row by forcing Cherokee Bluff into some tough shots and turnovers to get the home crowd back into it. An bucket by Phoenix senior Orry Darnell midway through the third cut the Bears’ lead to 31-30, and then Darnell made a free throw late in the period to make the score 36-33 going to the final quarter.

The momentum Sonoraville gained in the third was halted, however, as Cherokee Bluff reeled off an 11-0 run to open the fourth quarter to essentially seal the game.

“Credit to our kids…if you watched this team this year, you knew they were going to fight until the end,” said Mashburn. “We came out in the third and took care of the ball better, wanted the ball and made plays. We didn’t turn the ball over as much, and that gave us opportunities to score to get back in the game. I’m proud of our fight. We gave ourselves a chance, but in the end we just didn’t make enough plays.”

The Bears, who will advance to take on Hart County in the second round of the state tournament this weekend, were led in scoring by Dre Raven, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Also in double figures were Cade Simmons and Corey Thomas with 11 points apiece, and Cam’Ron Dabney added eight.

Darnell was the top scorer for Sonoraville in the season-ending loss with 12 points. The senior point guard scored all of his team’s six points in the fourth quarter.

Murray Somers, another of Sonoraville’s deep senior class that saw their prep career come to an end on Wednesday night, was also in double figures with 11 points, and Ian King added eight.

Mashburn said it wasn’t the end his team was hoping for, but he will look back on this season with great memories once the sting of the loss goes away over the next few weeks and months.

“This group has been great to coach overall,” said Mashburn. “I’ve never coached a group that has suited me more. I’m lucky to have to the privilege to coach these guys. They were truly made for me. They play hard. They’re unselfish. They really don’t care who has the individual success on a given night…it’s more about we than me. To go on a run to start the season and win 16 straight, to have a 20-win season…it was an incredible season for us. I’ve said all year with this team that the sum is greater than the parts, and that is the truth. They are a really good team that plays the game the way it should be played.”

BOX SCORES:

Cherokee Bluff Boys 57, Sonoraville 39

CHEROKEE BLUFF (57)

Dabney 8, Simmons 11, Raven 19, Thomas 11, Harbuck 2, Marlow 4, Collins 1, Gohman 1

SONORAVILLE (39)

Morrison 3, Darnell 12, King 8, Somers 11, Mullins 3, Bryant 2

C.B. 16 11 9 21—57

Son. 10 7 16 6—39

3-pointers – Cherokee Bluff 0; Sonoraville 5 (King 2, Darnell 1, Somers 1, Mullins 1), Free Throws – Cherokee Bluff 19-25; Sonoraville 8-11, Records –Sonoraville 20-5.

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