By Chris Whitfield
CHATSWORTH — After losing six seniors and more than 90 percent of his team’s offensive production from last year’s Region 5-3A runner-up team, North Murray High School boys basketball coach Tim Ellis knows this season will be different.
There will be growing pains and there will be plenty of mistakes that only experience can correct. But as long as he gets the effort he saw in Friday night’s season-opening 51-28 win over Tennessee’s Polk County, Ellis will be happy.
“We are a real young team from an experience standpoint,” Ellis said. “But I loved the hustle that they brought. The effort was there, so I can’t complain about that very much. We always tell them that effort and attitude are the only things we can control.”
It was a split opener for North Murray as the Lady Mountaineers fell 41-38.
From the start of the boys game, it was clear that neither team was going to set a new scoring standard as the first four minutes of the opening quarter passed with just three points scored. Polk County (2-2) didn’t even hit its first basket from the field until there was less than a minute to go in the quarter, and North Murray was little better while taking a 9-6 lead.
A pair of free throws by sophomore guard Jordan Couch gave the Mountaineers a 13-6 lead, but then the lid to the basket closed for the next five minutes, and the Wildcats responded with a 10-0 run keyed by guard George Locke, who led Polk County with 12 points.
North Murray still managed to take a 20-18 lead into the half.
“The first half we really struggled to score the basketball, but I was extremely proud that it didn’t affect our defensive effort,” Ellis said. “We just kept bringing wave after wave of defensive players after them, and you could see that it was wearing them down.”
Only 11 of Polk County’s 18 first-half points came from the field, with the rest at the line. It got worse for the Wildcats in the second half, when they scored just four points in the third quarter. North Murray went on a 10-2 run to start the second half, and never really let up with defensive pressure throughout while taking advantage of turnovers to build their lead. Polk had just three field goals in the second half.
Couch led the Mountaineers with 10 points, while freshman Noah Allen had eight.
“It is going to be a growing leap for these guys, but that doesn’t mean that we have lowered our expectations,” Ellis said.
• Polk County girls 41, North Murray 38: Having trailed all night long, the Lady Mountaineers finally took the lead 37-36 with a basket in the post from Gracie Phillips with 1:05 left in the game, but Polk County’s Heather McClain converted on a three-point play and then hit a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining to seal the win.
North Murray’s Kara Deal finished with 16 points to lead all scorers. The Lady Mountaineers (0-1) were hurt at the free-throw line, making just 4 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Polk County won for the third time in four games to start the season.
• Coahulla Creek girls 48, Ridgeland 45: Ridgeland led at the end of each of the first three periods — 15-9, 24-23 and 34-33 — but Bethany Goodwin and the visiting Lady Colts won the fourth quarter and the game.
Goodwin, who finished with 15 points, made a pair of 3-pointers and hit a pair of key free throws late to lead the way for Coahulla Creek (1-1).
“It was a great battle and it was a great win for us, coming here to their place,” Coahulla Creek coach Ryan Long said. “I’m very proud of my girls. I think we communicated the best I’ve ever seen us communicate.”
Macey Fossett added 10 points and Sydney Storey had eight for the Lady Colts.
• Gilmer girls 50, Murray County 48: The Lady Indians missed an open shot at the end of the game as they dropped a season-opening battle in Ellijay.
Gilmer was up 36-35 entering the final period.
“The fourth quarter was back and forth,” Murray County coach Michael Hill said. “We’d score and then they’d score. We’d stop them and then they’d stop us. It was a hard-fought fourth quarter.”
Senior center Caitlyn Sims scored half of Murray County’s points, while McKenzie Carroll finished with 10 and Holly Stanfield had eight.
• Gilmer boys 74, Murray County 48: The Indians, who trailed 41-18 at halftime, outscored the host Bobcats 20-15 in the fourth quarter to shake off a rough first half but still came up short.
“I was real proud of the way the guys responded after halftime,” Murray County coach Greg Linder said. “They came out and really played well and I think we got better in the second half. ... It’s a growing process for us, and I think we grew up a little bit in the second half. We’ve got to continue to grow.”
Alex Hicks had 10 points to pace the scoring in the season opener for the Indians, while Cesar Romero added nine points.
• Ridgeland boys 59, Coahulla Creek 55: Michael Ward had 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Colts (0-2).
• Coahulla Creek boys 48, Ridgeland 45: Tyrell Hill’s double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds) helped the Colts to their second straight victory to start the season, while teammate Alex Fisher led all scorers with 21 points.
• Southeast Whitfield boys 68, Coahulla Creek freshmen 64: Rodolfo Flores was 7-for-8 from the foul line in a 17-point performance as the Raiders won a back-and-forth battle at home. Ten players scored points for Southeast in the season opener.
• Southeast girls 49, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe 9: Hannah Dempsey had 12 points and six rebounds, while Sydney Covington chipped in nine points and eight steals as the Lady Raiders evened their record to 1-1 with the home win.
• Gilmer boys 39, Murray County 34: Logan Bickford scored nine points and James Lombardo added eight for the Indians in the season-opening loss on the road.