PUTNAMVILLE -- The Cloverdale Clovers advanced to the championship game of the South Putnam 2A sectional defeating Monrovia Friday night, 67-57, with the difference coming solely from the charity stripe.
The Clovers outscored the Bulldogs, 19-9 at the stripe and that proved to be the difference.
"We were fortunate to come out on top," Cloverdale coach Pat Rady commented after the game. "It was another tough dogfight."
Cloverdale got on the board when Craig Blair slashed inside for a bucket to give the Clovers a momentary lead until Monrovia's Eric Sampson drained a three-pointer from way outside. Blair's second basket of the night helped point the Clovers in the right direction -- to the championship game.
Stepping up for Cloverdale in the early minutes was Michael Neese and Christian Cheatham. Neese dropped a pair from outside and Cheatham set up shop on the inside. But with the quarter ended, Monrovia scored four points to get within one, 14-13, going into the second.
The second quarter found Cloverdale starters Cheatham and Blair on the bench, but that didn't slow down the charge. Neese and Seth Trinkle paced the Clovers in the period, scoring a combined 12 points. As halftime crept up, Cloverdale held 27-23 advantage.
Cheatham came out of halftime on fire. His aggressive play resulted in two early rebounds and a forced steal to set the second half tone for the team. Cheatham scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. Cloverdale fans ignited as Blair soared to tip in a Cheatham miss and give the Clovers a 36-29 lead.
"We had some gutsy plays tonight. They had a strong will to win," Rady remarked.
Just when it looked like Monrovia poised itself to start digging its way back, Neese popped another three to deflate the Monrovia bench. Monrovia's Zach Smith hit a basket at the buzzer to bring the Bulldogs within five.
Cheatham scored the first five points of the fourth for the Clovers as he aggressively attacked the basket and created opportunities for teammates Blair, Neese and Trinkle. That trio combined for 11 points in the quarter while Cheatham added nine.
With the clock winding down, Cheatham hit a two and Brandon Moon connected on two free throws to give the Clovers a 67-57 win and a chance at a sectional championship.
With the win in the books, Rady turned his sights and his strategy on his next foe, Tri-West.
"All their starters are three-year starters, so they've got an excellent ballclub," he said. "We've got to get better blocking out and getting some boards."
Cloverdale will play Tri-West tonight at 7:30 for the Class 2A South Putnam Sectional championship. Monrovia ends its season with a record of 7-16.
Class 2A South Putnam Sectional
Cloverdale 14 13 16 24 -- 67
Monrovia 13 10 15 19 -- 57
Cloverdale (67) -- Neese 11, Cheatham 16, Blair 9, Trinkle 11, Dean 5, Hacker 1, Moon 2. Totals -- FG 21-65 FT 19-31 TP 67.
Monrovia (57) -- Speck 14, Sampson 9, Smith 15, Connor 2, Grismore 13, Dirlam 2, Dillion 2. Totals -- FG 23-48 FT 9-14 TP 57.
3pt. FG -- Cloverdale 4 (Neese 4), Monrovia 3 (Speck 2, Sampson).
Next game -- Cloverdale will play Tri-West tonight at 7:30 for the Class 2A South Putnam Sectional championship. Monrovia ends its season with a record of 7-16.