COOKEVILLE — Despite falling in a deep hole early, Cleveland High clawed its way back into contention Saturday evening at the Region 3-AAA opener, but in the end host Cookeville pulled away with a lopsided tally that was actually closer than it sounds.
The District 6-AAA champion Cavaliers posted a 76-54 victory to advance to Tuesday’s region semifinals in Crossville, where they will face Ooltewah, a 53-41 winner over White County Saturday.
After eight wins in its first 10 games, Cleveland finishes up the campaign with a 15-13 record.
Cookeville raced out to a 26-8 advantage early in the second quarter Saturday evening, but the Blue Raiders fought back to close the gap to 35-23 at the intermission.
Cleveland continued to whittle away at the deficit early in the second half, pulling within four points when junior guard D.J. Bowles drove to the hoop for a basket with 3:39 left in the third period.
The hosts were able to regain their composure and finished the frame with a 9-1 run to push the difference back to double digits.
Travel by a dozen with eight minutes to go, the Blue Raiders once again mounted a charge and when Bowles drained a 3-pointer with 6:24 left, the gap was down to seven.
However, once again Cookeville went on a tear and pulled away for the 22-point victory to set a new school record for most wins in a season as the cavaliers improved to 28-5.
Bowles paced Cleveland with 20 points, while C.J. Bryant netted 14. Senior Jarod Rhodes capped his Raider career with a double-double, netting 13 markers and clearing 10 rebounds.
Trey Henderson led the home team with 22 points and 11 boards, while Lucas Ledbetter netted 17. Four Cavaliers reached double figures in scoring.