By Dave Gordon
There are only a couple players North Murray girls basketball coach Keith Robinette allows to take the open look with the game on the line.
Kara Deal is one of them.
The junior guard seized the moment and sank two key 3-pointers with her team leading by just two midway through the third quarter Thursday, helping lead the Lady Mountaineers to a 39-29 win over Polk County (Tenn.) in the championship semifinals of North Murray’s Mistletoe Madness tournament.
In the day’s other girls game, Christian Heritage edged Coahulla Creek 54-53 in a consolation bracket matchup
In boys pool play, Gilmer edged Polk County 48-44 and North Murray’s boys won 50-36 against old region rival Calhoun.
Both North Murray teams will play in Saturday’s championship games. The boys play at 8 p.m. and will face Gilmer if the Bobcats win today’s 5:30 p.m. game against Sonoraville. If Sonoraville wins, then that pool comes down to fewest points allowed.
The Lady Mountaineers face today’s Calhoun-Sonoraville winner at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and that’s thanks in large part to Deal’s outside shooting in the semifinals.
“She’s one of those that has the green light whenever she gets it,” Robinette said. “That allowed us to run a little clock off. She’s hit several 3s for us this year and two big ones tonight for sure. I was glad to see it and when it mattered especially.”
The crucial shots were part of a 11-2 run that closed out the victory for the Lady Mountaineers (7-2).
“Kara is starting to get that confidence back in her,” Robinette said. “The first one was a called play which didn’t run right but it ended up working out. The second was her just feeling it, shooting it. That was big for us.”
North Murray held a five-point lead going into the half at 20-15. The Wildkittens were able to cut the lead to one just before Deal’s barrage.
Deal led the Lady Mountaineers with nine points, while Abigail Bradley contributed seven in a balanced scoring effort.
Polk County’s Emily Wilson led all scorers with 13.
In today’s games, at 4 p.m. Dalton’s girls face Gilmer — the team that eliminated the Lady Cats in last year’s Region 7-3A tournament — in a consolation bracket matchup. Sonoraville and Calhoun play at 7 in today’s other girls game.
Christian Heritage’s boys face Calhoun at 8:30 in the final pool game of the tournament.
• Christian Heritage girls 54, Coahulla Creek 53: The Lady Lions used a 17-4 run in the final 6:34 to seal the consolation bracket victory.
The Lady Colts (0-8) led by eight at halftime and by seven at the end of the third as each team saw double-digit leads dissipate after the break.
“We led throughout the whole game, but the bottom line is we have to learn how to close, and that’s on me,” Coahulla Creek coach Ryan Long said. “We’re going to get them in practice and we’re going to learn how to close out a ballgame. The last two minutes is always critical.”
Christian Heritage (2-5) was down by 12 with 6:07 left in the third quarter, and then scored the game’s next 17 points before a jumper by Sydney Storey cut the Lions’ lead to one with 11.5 seconds left.
Rebecca Leonard led the Lady Lions with 15 points, including three 3-pointers down the stretch that cut into the Lady Colts’ lead. Sarah Massengale added 10 for the Lady Lions, including layups on consecutive possessions with just over a minute left that sealed the win.
“That’s one of the things that we said,” Lady Lions coach Heather Lowery said. “...is that our shots would start falling eventually. We’re still needing the confidence to just step up and want it.”
Lowery was pleased with the senior leadership in the closing minutes.
“Rebecca is one of the ones that has really had problems with her shot,” Lowery said. “But that’s a senior and a leader right there and she pulled it through.”
Macey Fossett led the Lady Colts with a game-high 17 points, with 15 coming in the first half. Nikki Ross added 10 points and two blocks.
The Lady Colts play again at 11 a.m. Saturday against the Dalton-Gilmer loser, while the Lady Lions face the winner at 12:30 p.m.
• North Murray boys 50, Calhoun 36: In a rematch from last season’s Region 7-2A tournament third-place game, which the Mountaineers won, it was all defense for the majority of the game.
Zach Vess led North Murray (8-1) with 20 points and Drew Mosteller added 15. The Mountaineers and Yellow Jackets were tied at 9 after the first quarter and North Murray led 18-15 at halftime. A big third quarter — the Mountaineers scored 13 and held Calhoun to only four — was the difference.
“I thought we went back in time,” North Murray coach Tim Ellis said of the low-scoring first half. “Bottom line is both teams were getting after each other. Neither team got anything easy. ... As a coach, it was very fun. It was a state tournament-type game. It was very physical.”
The Mountaineers were 16-for-20 shooting free throws in the second half, a big help in pulling away.
“In the second half we started attacking the bucket better,” Ellis said. “Our kids felt like they had something to prove tonight. I’m very proud of them.”
• North Paulding girls 54, Southeast Whitfield 42: The Lady Raiders (6-5) led by 10 after the first quarter but gradually let the lead slip away as they fell in Dallas.
Southeast’s Tavi Parris and Megan Collins each had 15 points with Collins completing a double-double performance with 11 rebounds. Sydney Covington had eight points.
The Lady Raiders led 16-6 after one quarter and were tied at 19 entering the second half. North Paulding took a 34-28 lead into the final period.
• North Paulding boys 72, Southeast 39: The Raiders (1-10) were hurt by a poor-shooting second quarter.
Zack Ramsey had nine points for Southeast, while Chaz Payne had eight points and 10 rebounds. The Raiders only trailed 15-9 after the first period but fell behind 35-18 at halftime.
“We just can’t make shots,” Southeast coach Jake Dickey said. “We made two baskets in that quarter and the rest of our points were free throws. We missed 21 free throws.”
At the end of the third quarter, the Raiders trailed 54-25.
Josue Quintero — the Raiders’ leading scorer through their first seven games — has quit the team, Dickey said.
• Northwest Whitfield JV girls 54, Dalton 26: Madelyn Logan had 15 points and six steals while Peyton Maret finished with 13 points and seven rebounds as the Lady Bruins rolled at home in the opening round of their three-day junior varsity tournament.
Whitley Brooker dished out six assists for the Lady Bruins (6-0). Dalton was led by Molly Lambert, who had eight points.
The tournament features eight girls teams and eight boys teams.
• Northwest JV boys 48, Christian Heritage 39: Christian Heritage’s Tyler Tipton led all scorers with 17 points, but Dalton’s Ty Pendley finished with 16 points as his team broke a halftime tie to win at home in holiday tournament play.
Chase Townsend added seven points for Christian Heritage (6-3).