By Chris Siers
BELL BUCKLE — Having qualified for the Class 2A state sectional last season, the Cascade Champions entered the 2023-2024 season having lost a lot of talent from graduating seniors.
While the Champs struggled at times to find consistency scoring in their season opener against Huntland, Cascade erased a 19-point deficit and dropped 34 points in the fourth quarter.
Despite the valiant rally in the final frame, Huntland did just enough to escape Cascade with a 72-68 win to open the season.
“We knew ahead of time we were going to have some growing pains and I think that’s what we saw as far as graduating a lot last year. We were a little bit passive a lot of the time tonight,” Champion coach Chris Lawson said.
Cascade played the visiting Hornets to a 22-22 deadlock by halftime, but fell behind in the third period with a 22-12 run by Huntland.
All game long, Cascade fed the ball in the paint to Issac McElroy, who finished with a game-high 24 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter.
While searching for their rhythm on the offensive end of the court through the first three quarters, Cascade came alive in the fourth and erupted for 34 points.
“Finally in the fourth quarter, we started attacking and playing a little bit. We scored 34 points in the fourth quarter to equal what we scored in the first three quarters. To me, that’s a positive that we were finding our heads there a little bit, late,” Lawson said.
McElroy not only attacked the basket and led the Champs in the scoring column, but also was a key factor in the Cascade rebounding game.
“He absolutely wants to be the guy. He did a good job of attacking. We have to find the balance of when to find shots and when to attack,” Lawson said.
While Cascade was able to post 34 in the final quarter, Huntland was able to execute in transition and dropped 28 of its own in the final quarter to preserve the win.
Early in the fourth, Cascade trailed by as many as 19, but a 3-pointer by senior Caden Hammonds brought Cascade within six with a minute to play.
Huntland answered the trey by Cascade preserved the 7-point lead for much of the final minute.
As time wound down, McElroy tossed a 3-pointer from near half-court that swished the nylon as time expired to cut the final score to four points.
While the season-opener didn’t fall his team’s way, Lawson still has high hopes for the ceiling the Champs have this season.
“Our guys are going to play hard. We’ve got good size and talent. We’ve got a chance to be pretty good. Huntland has been good for a few years. They came in tonight and scored 70. We just struggled to put the ball in the basket,” he said.
“We’ve got to figure out our niche,” he said.
Huntland 12 10 22 28 — 72
Cascade 10 12 12 34 — 68
Huntland: Trace Kilpatrick 18, Kannon Lafevers 16, Lashawn Kimmons 13, Landon Farmer 11, Demetri Reed 9, Cayden Bradford 3, Ellis Stewart 2.
Cascade Isaac McElroy 24, Henry Stone 17, Tucker McGee 9, Logan Pulley 6, Nick Harris 5, Caden Hammonds 3, Zach Crosslin 3, Ivan Draine.
3-Point goals: Cascade (5): Pulley 2, Draine, McElroy, Hammonds; Huntland (5): Farmer 3, Kilpatrick, Reed.
Halftime score: Huntland 22, Cascade 22.