February 19, 2013

Dalton, North Murray girls basketball prepares for first round

Chris Whitfield

— As the Georgia High School Association’s girls state basketball tournament begins today, both Dalton and North Murray face a little déjà vu.

The Lady Catamounts, led by coach Jeff McKinney, play in the Class 4A first round tonight at 5:30 at Redan in DeKalb County. Dalton’s softball team, then coached by McKinney, faced Redan in a similar situation in the fall when the No. 3-seeded Lady Cats travelled to face the No. 2-seeded Lady Raiders.

North Murray travels to the “Granite Capital of the World” to take on Elbert County at 6 p.m. The two teams met last season in North Murray’s Christmas tournament, and the Lady Blue Devils won by eight over the Lady Mountaineers.

“They are very athletic, and they haven’t changed a whole lot,” North Murray coach Keith Robinette said. “We lost that game in the Christmas tournament, and we were 8-of-23 from the free throw line, so we sort of felt like we helped them out a little bit last time.”

During the softball season, Dalton was on the road at Redan, and the third-seeded Lady Cats swept past the Lady Raiders to the second round of state. But McKinney knows that Redan has a much tougher pedigree on the basketball court than on the diamond.

The Lady Raiders (25-2) won the state title in 2009, and both losses this season came at the hands of Region 6-4A champions Columbia, currently The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s top-ranked team in Class 4A. Dalton was a state finalist during the 2010-2011 season, but the Lady Cats missed the state tournament last year after Gilmer knocked them out in the region playoffs.

“They are a very, very athletic team, and they have had a lot of success,” McKinney said of Redan. “They are very quick. I can’t express how quick they are. They have three or four guards who can get up and down the floor. We are just going to have to do the fundamentals.”

Dalton (21-7) almost Region 7-4A champions River Ridge in the region semifinals and bounced back to dominate Pickens in Saturday’s consolation game. McKinney said his team is playing cleaner with fewer turnovers as it enters state.

“We have cut back a lot on the turnovers,” McKinney said. “Against Pickens, we only had seven. As a coach, I have had to deal with a higher number of turnovers than you like, but it creates more steals when you play an uptempo style. If we don’t make good passes and protect the ball against Redan, with all that quickness, it could be a long night."

Seniors Maddie Howell and Brooke Thomas are leading the Lady Cats in scoring with 15 and 12 points per game, respectively.

North Murray (17-11) comes into the game after falling to eventual Region 5-3A champions Sonoraville in the semifinals of this past weekend’s tournament and then beating Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe for the first time in three meetings in the consolation game.

Elbert County (21-7) lost to North Oconee for the Region 8-4A championship.

Robinette is hoping his team’s experience with the Lady Blue Devils from last season will pay dividends tonight.

“There is no doubt they are a little more athletic than us, but we feel like we match up well with them,” he said. “I am hoping our matchup stuff we do defensively will neutralize their speed. We have to have a good game in the paint and limit them and force them outside, and we will be in a position to win the ballgame.”

The Lady Mountaineers have been without leading scorer Erin Robinson, who has been out with illness. However, Abigail Bradley, Kara Deal and Meagan Spivey have been picking up the slack. Robinette said he will find out today if his leading scorer will dress out tonight.

No matter who is on the floor, Robinette said his team found another gear in the last two weeks.

“We were playing some good ball around Christmas and then we hit a little lull,” Robinette said. “I hope we play our best in Elbert County. We have picked it up in the last couple of weeks.”