CHATSWORTH — Twice in the second half, Dalton High School’s girls basketball team made North Murray hold its breath.
Both times, the Lady Mountaineers exhaled and pushed their opponents away.
As co-hosts of this week’s Alfa Insurance Mistletoe Madness tournament — along with their North Murray boys counterparts — the Lady Mountaineers beat Dalton 60-51 in the first round of girls competition at the four-day event after building leads of 13 and 17 points in the second half.
In other tournament games Wednesday, North Murray’s boys beat Morris Innovative 80-20, Dade County’s girls beat Coahulla Creek 31-30, Sonoraville’s girls beat Gilmer 55-37 and Calhoun’s boys beat Gilmer 56-43.
North Murray (3-5) stretched its lead to 37-24 with 3:50 left in the third quarter after Kelsey Shelton and Kara Deal made back-to-back layups. A little more than a minute later, Dalton (2-3) had scored eight straight points, with Gabby Wright hitting a layup and Bowen Land following with a 3-pointer to bring the Lady Catamounts within five points.
Amber Bandy’s basket for the Lady Mountaineers ended the rally and North Murray held a 43-34 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“They scored a few buckets to cut that lead down a couple times,” North Murray coach Keith Robinette said. “Our rotation was slow and we didn’t get tips and they just beat us a few times. But I loved the way our girls responded. We weren’t able to press like that lately. ... I thought several kids stepped up tonight.”
The Lady Mountaineers scored the first nine points of the final period, with Shelton hitting two layups and Megan Pittman making two jumpers. Dalton made it an eight-point game with Adriana Bryant’s 3-pointer and Hannah Cox’s two free throws, but Bryant followed with two free throws to make it 53-47 with 2:25 left.
On the next possession, Deal sank two free throws. After a turnover, Emma Gossage converted a 3-point play to put North Murray ahead 58-47 with 1:56 left and end Dalton’s comeback hopes.
Dalton coach Lacie Coquerille said her team has been hurt by “defensive breakdowns” all season, and this game continued the trend.
“It’s just two or three people not being where they’re supposed to be,” she said. “That’s how you give up easy layups. ... We could never fight back all the way.”
Deal finished with a game-high 18 points and helped North Murray to a 9-5 lead early with a 3-pointer. In the second quarter, Sarah Hartshorn made two consecutive jumpers to put Dalton up 17-16, but North Murray scored the next 13 points and ended the first half with a 29-20 lead.
“Something we’ve struggled with the last few games is not being able to sustain runs,” Robinette said. “Getting on that run really gave us confidence going into the half.”
Shelton scored 11 points, while Grace Phillips added 10 as North Murray’s final double-digit scorer.
Cox and Bryant each tallied 14 points for Dalton, while Land scored eight.
North Murray plays Dade County at 7 p.m. Friday at North Murray and Dalton plays Coahulla Creek at 4 p.m. Friday at Bagley Middle School, where half of Wednesday’s games were played and all consolation bracket games on Friday will be played.
• North Murray boys 80, Morris Innovative 20: The Mountaineers (7-3) led 30-4 and 49-9 after the first two quarters and the Tigers remained winless through nine games in their first season of varsity basketball.
Nathan Spivey led North Murray with 13 points and Alex Viars added 10.
Mountaineers coach Tim Ellis said his guards did well penetrating the Tigers’ zone defense and hitting open shots when help defense came.
Ellis hopes to make the most of his team’s home tournament, which will take the Mountaineers into Christmas break. Region play awaits them in January.
“You play Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments to gauge your team, so when you get into region tournaments you have something to draw from,” he said. “You have experience playing games for three or four straight days.”
Freddie Tibbs led Morris Innovative with six points.
North Murray plays at 8:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of tonight’s Christian Heritage and Heritage-Catoosa matchup. Morris Innovative plays the loser at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
• Dade County girls 31, Coahulla Creek 30: Haley Reece had nine points to lead the Lady Colts (4-5), who lost in the only other Mistletoe Madness game involving a team from Murray or Whitfield counties.
“We played great defense,” Coahulla Creek coach Ryan Long said. “It was just a tough night on offense.”
Bethany Goodwin added eight points for Coahulla Creek.