Though the loss ended a 23-game winning streak for the Lady Warriors — whose only other loss of the season was to Creekview on Dec. 8 — Norcross came in with two state championships in three years and a pair of college-bound seniors in Diamond DeShields and Shayla Cooper.
Cherokee coach Matt Cates said his team just met a better opponent.
“They are a good team — a great team actually,” he said. “They should be playing for the state championship. I expect that. It’s either them or North Gwinnett for this one.”
Norcross (25-4) will play Langston Hughes in Saturday’s semifinal at Georgia Tech.
DeShields, a North Carolina signee recently named the national player of the year, started the game with a 3-pointer after Norcross won the opening tip.
Cherokee (29-2) soon got on the board with a 3-pointer by Christie Mixon that made it 5-3, but the Lady Blue Devils quickly pulled away.
DeShields’ seven points in the first quarter equaled the total scored by the Lady Warriors in the period, but were only half as many as Cooper poured in. The Georgetown signee finished with a game-high 34 points.
Cherokee’s Bethany Huch made a jumper — her only basket of the game — near the end of the first quarter, but the Lady Warriors were down 24-7 at the end of the period.
A free throw by Aunesha Williams, and baskets by Morgan Darby and Kiana Howell, had Cherokee fans thinking that momentum might shift, but it was short-lived. Up 29-13, Norcross turned up the pressure by shifting into a full-court press and profiting from turnovers.
Sydney Pfanis scored four points for the Lady Warriors before the half, but her team still trailed 39-17 at the break.
Norcross kept pouring it on. In the first 2 minutes of the second half, it pulled way behind the shooting of DeShields, who drained a long 3. When Williams scored Cherokee’s first points of the half with 6:05 remaining in the third, the team was down 54-19.
Mixon made another 3, and Howell scored twice more, but it was too little as Norcross dominated the scoring 29-11.
DeShields, daughter of former Major League Baseball player Delino DeShields, scored 14 points in the third quarter and finished the game with 28.
Cherokee made use of its bench in the fourth quarter, particularly late. They had their biggest quarter of the night, putting up 13 points. Mixon made her third 3 of the night, while Audrisha Williams scored twice and Jordan Cox and Aunisha Williams each added baskets.
The Lady Warriors did score the final eight points of the game, including a pair of free throws by Pfanis, who went 4-for-4 from the line in the game.
Mixon and Aunesha Williams each scored nine points to lead Cherokee. Howell, Audrisha Williams and Pfanis finished with six points each.
DeShields and Cooper accounted for 62 of the Lady Blue Devils’ 76 points. Sierra Butler was the only other Norcross player to make multiple shots.
Cates said the loss wouldn’t sting for long.
“We won 29 ballgames this season,” he said. “That hasn’t happened since 1966 or ’67. Yeah, it hurts a little, but our kids played tough. They went undefeated in the region, won the region regular-season title and the region tournament. They made it to the elite eight and won 23 straight ballgames. They have nothing to hang their heads about.”
Cherokee will graduate five players, including Howell, Darby, Mixon and injured point guard Sara Byers, but it should be back in force next season behind the Williams sisters, Pfanis and Huch.