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Shorthanded Champs Punch 11th Straight Region Ticket After Grounding Visiting Rockets

Isaac McElroy (14) floats for two of his game-high 20 points in Monday's win.
Isaac McElroy (14) floats for two of his game-high 20 points in Monday's win.
David Smith

The Cascade Champions came into Monday night in unfamiliar territory under fourth-year head coach, Chris Lawson, needing a win to open district tournament play to secure the program’s 11th consecutive regional berth. The previous three seasons, the Champions began tournament play in the district semi-finals, already having a regional quarterfinal game secured. 

This time however, Cascade would have to play their way into the semi-finals of the five-team District 9-AA Tournament as the fourth seed against the fifth seed Forrest Rockets in a rematch from Friday’s rescheduled regular season clash despite key freshman big man Wickey Parker unable to play with his foot in a walking boot.

The Champions completed the season sweep, 52-43, over Chapel Hill on Monday in the District 9-AA Play-In game.

“It [The 4 seed] isn’t exactly where we wanted to be, but the guys have embraced it,” Lawson said.

After squeaking by with a 52-42 win just three days ago against these same Rockets despite trailing 16-12 to end the first quarter of that game, the Champions started off slow once again. Chapel Hill led 13-7 after the opening frame as they controlled the pace in the first eight minutes. Tucker McGee came off the bench to score five of his 12 points in the quarter, including a three-pointer, but Zach Crosslin was the only other Champion to score in the period as the hosts took over three minutes to score their first basket. 

Cascade would respond nicely in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 13-7 to draw level going into the halftime locker room at 20-20. The final two minutes of the half saw Chris Lawson employ the first bit of full-court pressure, a 2-2-1 zone press, of the evening, and it was the perfect move, sparking a mini-run to end the half with a couple of turnovers forced by Logan Pulley and Tyler Rodgers.

That energy and swagger would carry over into the third quarter with Cascade scoring 17 in the period to take a 37-31 lead into the fourth. The fouls began to mount up for both teams, and Isaac McElroy would begin to take full advantage at the free throw line, scoring half of his game-high 20 points from the charity stripe.

In Friday’s win, McElroy went 10/12 from the line in his 24-point outing, and on Monday he replicated the feat, shooting a near-perfect 10/12 from the line again.

“You’re either a one-level, two-level, or three-level scorer where you can score at the rim, knock down mid-range jump shots, and hit some threes (McElroy is 38% from downtown this year),” said Chris Lawson, He’s started to do that while also getting to the free throw line which is huge, but we have also been trying to get other guys to understand that as well.”

McElroy becoming that three-level scorer for Cascade this season is instrumental to their postseason success, especially moving forward.

Despite trailing by six entering the final frame, the three-win Chapel Hill team continued to fight, never letting the Champions extend their lead to more than 10 points. 

Despite this, Cascade’s lead was also never really in doubt as they closed the door on Chapel Hill’s season with a 52-43 win.

Cascade was led by McElroy’s 20-point effort, and he was joined in double-figures by Tucker McGee with 12 points. Senior Saebyn Burris chipped in with eight points of his own.

For Chapel Hill, Ben Villazon and Tristan Goad led the Rockets with 15 and 12 points respectively.

The Champions move on to take on the number one seed in the district tournament, the Cannon County Lions, on Wednesday.

“Cannon county has a great team, Coach Nave [played at Cannon County] has quite a bit of experience as an Assistant, he has a pretty good team, picked up a transfer in the offseason, and he’s managed to put all those pieces together,” Lawson said on their next opponent.

“They do a great job, they're tough, they can score, they can get up and down the floor, and all 6 or 7 guys they play are a threat to shoot, drive, and score. It makes it tough defensively, you can’t have any weaknesses, but it’ll help us playing in our gym even though they'll bring a big crowd,” he continued, “so this place should be rocking for that semifinal game. There will be a great environment on Wednesday.”

Lawson feels like his group of guys are embracing the moment the right way, in part due to some postseason experience from the last couple of years.

“Our guys understand what it takes, and they will be prepared to play.”

The Cascade Champions improve to 11-15 (4-4) on the season, and will play Cannon County on Wednesday in the second game of the night, LIVE on WZNG The Zinger 100.9 and AM 1400 starting at 7:15 p.m.

Cascade Champions, Forrest Rockets