By Phil Anastasia
Like everybody else on the Cherokee boys' basketball team, Paul Bellamy is a role player.
It's just that his role is a little different.
"I feel like my role is to make great plays for my team," Bellamy said after leading host Cherokee to a 53-46 victory over Shawnee in the season opener for both teams on Friday night.
Bellamy, a 6-foot-2 junior swingman, scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as Cherokee pulled away from its stubborn school-district rival in an Olympic Conference inter-division clash.
Senior guard Kyle Kahriger scored both of his baskets off steals in a key stretch of the fourth quarter and sophomore guard Tyler Tobin bounced off the bench to deliver 12 points for Cherokee, the No. 15 team in The Inquirer preseason rankings.
Junior guard Alec Warren, who made four three-pointers, and sophomore forward Dean Austin each scored 12 for Shawnee.
"I'm so proud of my guys," Shawnee coach Joe Kessler said. "A loss is never good but we can learn a lot from this."
Without a returning starter in the lineup for the first time in his 26 seasons, Kessler suspected his team might struggle at the start, especially against an experienced and defensive-oriented team such as Cherokee.
After five minutes, the Chiefs were in front, 13-0.
"I told the guys before the game, 'You're going to be nervous, just withstand the first wave,'" Kessler said. "We didn't but we hung in there and fought back into the game."
With Warren and freshman guard Mike Shinske (eight points) making key three-pointers and Austin (eight rebounds) and junior Sam Portner (seven points, seven rebounds) providing a lift off the bench, Shawnee rallied to take a 37-35 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Renegades still were in front, 41-40, after Austin scored on a follow shot with three minutes, 19 seconds remaining.
That's when Bellamy rose up and made the game's biggest shot: A three-pointer that gave Cherokee the lead for good at 43-41.
"I was wide open," Bellamy said. "I knew I had to make it for my team."
The shot ignited a 9-0 run for Cherokee, as Kahriger made a pair of layups off steals and senior guard Kevin Wixted (six points, three taken-charges) did the same.
"That fourth quarter showed where we hope this year is going to be different than last year," Cherokee coach Matt Shultz said. "Last year we would have struggled and we would have ended up with a close loss.
"This year, we made plays. We have experienced guys and they know they have to step up and make plays."
Shultz said Bellamy, the only junior in the starting lineup with four seniors, is the athlete most capable of making plays for the Chiefs.
"We need him to do that -- not all the time, but when we need it," Shultz said.
Moments before his big three-pointer, Bellamy scored on a baseline drive for a 40-39 lead. He also was 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final 1:09.
"We've got a lot of veterans this year, a lot of guys who understand their role," Bellamy said. "We feel like we can take it to another level."
Shawnee 6 9 15 16 -- 46
Cherokee 13 8 12 20 -- 53
S: Mike Shinske 8, Alec Warren 12, Luke Cooper 4, Dean Austin 12, Sam Portner 7, Eric Aita 1, Paul Chiusano 2.
C: Kyle Kahriger 4, Paul Bellamy 23, Kevin Wixted 6, Ben Handel 8, Jake Powell 0, Tyler Tobin 12.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com