By Devin Golden
In their first matchup this season, the final score showed a wide gap between Christian Heritage’s girls basketball team and North Murray.
The latter team is still superior, but the Lady Lions were a lot closer on Tuesday.
The Lady Mountaineers fought off Christian Heritage’s mid-game rally for a 60-54 win at home as North Murray’s Mistletoe Madness tournament got under way. In the day’s other girls matchup, Tennessee’s Polk County beat Coahulla Creek 50-40, and in the only boys game, North Murray beat Christian Heritage 86-50.
Eight girls teams are competing in bracket play, while six boys teams are competing in pool play. Action continues each day and will conclude with place games on Saturday.
The Lady Mountaineers (6-2) led just 42-40 entering the fourth quarter, but they got a big 3-pointer from Kara Deal and scored the first seven points of the period. It was the final run of a game defined by the Lady Mountaineers gaining a cushion and having to respond each time the Lady Lions (2-8) eliminated it.
“I hope that’s a testament to our experience,” North Murray coach Keith Robinette said. “Our kids made the plays when they had to, but they got on a run and we didn’t defend in transition very well. ... We’ve got to get down and defend.”
Only seven Christian Heritage players saw time on the court, and coach Heather Lowery believed her team “ran out of gas” in the fourth quarter. The Lady Lions were tested inside as they defended Megan Spivey and Erin Robinson, who scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“In about a two-minute span I thought our girls got tired,” she said. “I looked to our assistant coach and said, ‘Look at that.’ We were doubled over and just looked tired.”
When the two teams played a month ago in Dalton High’s Lady Cats Invitational, it was the second game of the season for each — and just the second GHSA contest ever for the Lady Lions — and North Murray won easily, 63-32. At the start of this second meeting, it looked like it would be more of the same.
The Lady Mountaineers went on a 19-6 run to close the first quarter and hold a 27-13 lead. In the next period, the Lady Lions cut the deficit to 28-25 before entering halftime down 34-25.
“They beat us to a number of loose balls and in effort plays, I felt like they made a few and took advantage of it,” Robinette said. “Two four-point swings in the second quarter hurt us.”
Christian Heritage stayed hot in the third quarter behind a game-high 25 points from Sarah Massen-gale and one of Alexis Poag’s two 3-pointers. The Lady Lions tied the game at 38 with around two minutes remaining in the period.
“I think it shows we adjusted a little better,” Lowery said. “Breaking the press and stuff. Last year we were more a fast-break team, and this year we’re not.”
Poag finished with 12 points for Christian Heritage, while Rebecca Leonard had nine. Hannah Hensley tallied 10 points for North Murray, which will advance to the second round to face Polk County at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Coahulla Creek and Christian Heritage play in a consolation bracket matchup at 4 p.m. Thursday.
• North Murray boys 86, Christian Heritage 50: The Mountaineers (8-1) rolled behind seven 3-pointers from Austen Horn and Zach Vess’ 22 first-half points.
The Lions (3-2) were never in contention. North Murray led 26-9 after the first quarter, 51-24 at halftime and 68-42 entering the final period. Horn had five 3-pointers in the first half alone and finished with 24 points before fouling out with 7:12 left in the game.
“They were in that zone,” Mountaineers coach Tim Ellis said of the Lions’ defense, “and he took the shots when they were available. He took good shots.”
Vess had a game-high 27 points and eight rebounds. Christian Heritage’s bright spot was Will Patterson’s team-high 19 points, while Michael McKinney tallied 11 points and eight rebounds.
“The way we just played, I don’t think we can play worse than that,” Lions coach Anthony Moseley said. “I’m talking about no version of defense. We played no version of it. ... They needed this to see this is what happens when they don’t play defense.”
Next in pool play for both teams is Calhoun. The Mountaineers face them at 8:30 p.m. Thursday while the Lions get their shot at the same time Friday.
North Murray and Calhoun were Region 7-2A rivals the past two seasons and played in a third-place game at last year’s region tournament, with the Mountaineers winning 52-48.
If the Mountaineers win, they will clinch a spot in the tournament’s championship game against the other pool winner.
• Polk County girls 50, Coahulla Creek 40: The Lady Colts (0-8) trailed 38-23 entering the final quarter but fought back in the final minutes.
Nikki Ross had a team-high 13 points, while Macey Fossett and Hannah Locke each scored eight. Coahulla Creek trailed 18-15 after the first quarter and 24-16 at halftime.
“I think we’re getting more confident every single game,” Lady Colts coach Ryan Long said. “We played a great team. We executed. ... As our confidence grows, we will improve more and more as a team.”
Today’s tournament action features two more girls games — Dalton versus Sonoraville at 4 p.m. and Gilmer versus Calhoun at 5:30 — and a boys matchup between Sonoraville and Polk County at 7 p.m.