For the past 10 years, Northwest Whitfield High School boys basketball coach Ryan Richards has been on a mission.
“When (former athletic director) Mike Falleur brought me in for an interview a decade ago, I looked around and I couldn’t find a boys basketball banner in the gym,” Richards said. “So our slogan was, ‘Hang a banner.’ We came close a couple of times over the years, but we will finally get to hang that banner.”
That banner will say, “2013 Region 7-4A champions.”
The Bruins won the first region title in the history of the school Saturday night, beating Dalton 69-62 in the Region 7-4A championship game at the Cats Den.
Caleb Storey led three different Bruins in double figures to spark North-west’s offense, but it was an increase in defensive pressure and Dalton forward Alex Bautista picking up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter that changed the game.
Dalton led 36-30 after Jackson Dinges scored on a press breaker, but Northwest ramped up its full-court press and outscored Dalton 11-2 to take a 41-38 lead and shift the momentum. Dalton tied the game at 41 going into the fourth, though.
“I was not very happy with the way we played in the first half,” Richards said. “We came out in the first half a little stagnant and maybe with some dead legs. We couldn’t hit a shot outside. We went back to running and pressure in the second half, and that seemed to get us awake.”
Northwest’s Tanner Quarles, who was part of the perimeter game that hit just one 3-pointer in the first half, finally found the range in the second. His 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter gave the Bruins a lead they would never relinquish.
Northwest scored the first 10 points of the final period, and Dalton never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
Free-throw shooting down the stretch sealed the win for the Bruins, who went 12-for-14 from the line in the fourth quarter as Dalton was forced to play from behind and foul.
“The key to the game was Alex getting four fouls in the third quarter, and Northwest started hitting their shots,” Cats coach Mike Duffie said.
“When he got his fourth foul, we didn’t have enough ball handlers and we didn’t handle their pressure very well. Their shooters hit their 3-pointers, and ours didn’t.”
Storey led Northwest with 19 points, while post O’Shea Hill and Quarles each had 16. Bautista led Dalton with 19, while Rico Mears and Demond Rucker scored 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Both the Bruins and Cats will host in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
Northwest (23-3) will play Region 6-4A No. 4 seed Grady, while Dalton (19-7) will host No. 3 seed Marist.
Earlier in the night, Gilmer’s Connor Webb scored 21 points to lead the Bobcats to a 66-48 win over River Ridge in the consolation game.