The Cleveland Raiders split a pair of district games with Rhea County Tuesday in their home away from home, Cleveland Middle School.
The Lady Raiders fell behind early to the Lady Eagles and struggled to make up ground, eventually falling by a score of 53-36.
The Blue Raiders battled the scrappy Golden Eagles for four quarters before pulling away in the fourth and holding on to win 63-54.
"We're getting close to putting it together," said Blue Raiders coach Jason McCowan. "We're getting to full strength with our football guys and we're getting healthier. I'm starting to see who needs to be in there more, and who doesn't need to be in there."
The Raiders were glad Kendrick Thompson was on the floor against the Eagles. The Cleveland senior guard piled in a game-high 22 points in the District 5-AAA win. Cantrel reached double figures with 15 and TyQwon Ware came in with 14.
McCowan was pleased with the way the Raiders spread the scoring, but said it is time to shorten the bench and cut down on the number of substitutions.
"We played 11 guys Friday, 11 Saturday and 11 tonight; that's going to shrink," he said. "There are some guys that I've got to teach by using the bench. We are going to go in there for two or three minutes as hard as we can or it's going to be no minutes. I'm just going to have to use my timeouts better or some of our guys are going to have to get in a little better shape."
Cleveland jumped right into a full-court press against Rhea and built a 9-2 lead. Thompson made it a 12-5 game with the Raiders' first 3-pointer and combined with TyQwon Ware with four more points to increase the lead to 16-5. Jonathan Vecchio put Cleveland up 18-8 just before the end of the quarter.
The Eagles battled back in the second, outscoring the Raiders 15-5 and tying the game 23-23 with 3:38 left in the half. The lead swapped hands three more times before Cantrel Ware put Cleveland out front 30-28. A minute later Ware's 3 from the left corner helped the Raiders to a 35-30 halftime lead.
"We had more balanced scoring tonight," said McCowan. "Rhea County is a better team than what people think. They are young and they play hard. And they always play hard against us."
The Raiders got a pair of 3s to open the third and picked up three more on a Colby Tatum 3-pointer to build a 48-39 lead in a low scoring third quarter.
Rhea County opened the fourth with a 9-2 run to make it a 50-48 game. The Raiders opened the lead back to 54-48 midway through the quarter and held the Eagles to two points the rest of the way to lock up the win.
McCowan said after his postgame talk the time is quickly coming when he will know who will be ready to help the team down the stretch.
"I think by the time we come back form Christmas break we will know who is going to go for us," he said. "January is a big district month. We will get some more games against really good teams that will be tough and we will come back and play Notre Dame right out of the break. Then we will go play Walker Valley. I will know by then. That will give us plenty of time to practice.
"The team is telling me the bench needs to be shortened and my coaches are reaffirming that. We're giving the kids a chance, some of them are taking advantage of it and some of them are not."
LADY EAGLES 53,
LADY RAIDERS 36
If the old adage that practice makes perfect is to hold true for the Lady Raiders then practice time and learning to do things the right way will be imperative in the coming weeks.
Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser said a bad day of practice Monday led to a district loss to Rhea County.
"We did not have a good practice yesterday and that is my fault. I didn't have them prepared at all. I didn't insist we do things the right way yesterday in practice and that is my fault. I didn't have us prepared," said Kiser. "Obviously we didn't execute some things in the ballgame. Our shots didn't fall early and we didn't go to the offensive boards. We dug that hole in the first quarter and were never able to recover."
Nora Berry scored 13 points for the Lady Raiders but it was not enough to help dig the Cleveland girls out of an 11-3 first quarter void.
Rhea County built its lead to 11 points three minutes into the second quarter and held a 28-16 lead at intermission.
"This will be a good film for us to watch because some of the things we have been talking about we are not doing well. We didn't play particularly well Saturday," said Kiser.
The Lady Raiders fell behind by 18 with just over a minute left in the third and cut the Rhea lead to 42-30 at the end of the period. It would be as close as they would get as the Lady Eagles controlled the floor the rest of the way for the win.
"This one falls on me. I didn't have us ready to play. It's the week before Christmas. I've seen it in college and I've seen it in high school. It's just a tough week to play. Our goal is to win the week and that's going to be really hard for us now," Kiser said afterward.
"We're playing a short bench and I think our legs are probably getting a little tired, but we still have to get things done in practice and we just didn't do that yesterday. That translated into our performance today. I knew it was going to happen, it's my fault and I'll take the blame for this one."