Dalton High School basketball player Braxton Thomas put his head down and went to work time and time again, slowly cutting into what had been a double-digit lead for Pickens.
Like the rest of the Catamounts, Thomas didn’t intend to leave the Region 7-4A tournament with nothing to show for their appearance but a bunch of bricks.
Dalton gave one of its best performances of the season in the second half of Saturday’s game against the Dragons, overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit to win 60-49 and advance to the semifinals of the Region 7-4A tournament at Cass High School. The Cats will also advance to the state tournament, which starts later this week, for the third straight season.
Dalton (18-7) plays again at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, facing the winner of Monday’s matchup between Heritage-Catoosa and River Ridge.
“I didn’t want this to be our last game,” Thomas said, “and I knew we had the better team.”
In other Region 7-4A tournament action on Saturday at Cass, Dalton’s girls’ season ended with a 66-55 loss to Cedartown. Southeast Whitfield’s boys were eliminated via a 53-49 loss to Cass, which will face Northwest Whitfield at 5:30 p.m. Monday with a state berth at stake. Needing a win to advance to state, Southeast’s girls lost 57-36 to Gilmer. Ridgeland’s girls beat Cass and will take on Northwest’s girls at 4 p.m. Monday. Heritage-Catoosa’s girls beat Pickens to clinch a spot in state, Heritage’s boys beat Cedartown to secure the matchup with River Ridge on Monday and Gilmer’s boys beat LaFayette to advance to state.
The long day was necessitated by weather postponements this past week that led to the tournament missing five days on the court. The tournament, which started with a pair of games on Feb. 8, was originally supposed to finish Saturday.
In the Cats’ win, Thomas finished the first half with a layup — Pickens (13-13) was ahead 34-20 at the break — and scored 13 points in the third quarter. Dalton started the second half with an 18-1 run and grabbed the 38-35 lead with 2:02 left in the third quarter after Jeffrey Brown’s three-point play.
Dalton created a 17-point swing in less than six minutes.
“We played with a lot more enthusiasm,” Dalton senior Lyle Durham said. “The second half was the way we usually play.”
Dalton led 40-37 entering the fourth quarter and scored the first six points of the period, halting any comeback hopes for Pickens, the No. 3 seed for Sub-region 7A-4A. Dalton shared the Sub-region 7B-4A title with Northwest, but lost a coin flip and became a No. 2 seed.
Dalton finished 1-for-9 on 3-pointers but only attempted one in the second half. Thomas, who led the team with 24 points, drove into Pickens’ zone defense nine times in the third quarter and attempted a game-high 15 free throws overall.
Also impressive was Dalton’s defense after halftime. Pickens only scored three third-quarter points and didn’t reach double digits for the second half until around three minutes remained in the game.
“We didn’t have the ability to get to the rim,” Pickens coach Brad Steinhauer said.
Pickens scored the game’s first six points and led 16-9 when the first quarter closed. The Dragons’ lead kept growing and reached double digits at 23-12 on Tylar Urlaub’s 3-pointer midway through the second quarter. Pickens scored 16 points off uncontested layups in the first half.
“We didn’t do anything we were supposed to in the first half,” Dalton coach Mike Duffie said. “The effort and intensity was much better in the second half.”
Brown scored 15 points while Emier Bowman added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Cats.
• Cass boys 53, Southeast 49: Southeast’s Raiders appeared headed for a matchup against Northwest’s Bruins, but the Colonels forced an important turnover and got enough offensive rebounds to advance.
Rhett Harper’s 3-pointer put Southeast (7-20), 7B-4A’s No. 5 seed, ahead 47-46 with 3:13 left. The teams traded free throws until Cass took a 50-49 lead in the final minute.
With a chance to grab a late edge, Southeast turned the ball over. Cass, 7A-4A’s No. 4 seed, made 3 of 8 free throws in the final 25 seconds after winning three offensive rebounds.
“We had our chances,” said Southeast coach Jim Case, a former Dalton assistant who closed out his first season leading the Raiders.
Southeast trailed 29-26 at halftime and 35-26 early in the third quarter but battled back.
Harper, a senior, finished with 14 points, as did Noah Ramsey.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” said Case, who led the Raiders to five more wins than a year ago. “They cooperated with me through everything, both positive and negative. They showed some tenacity.”
• Gilmer girls 57, Southeast 36: The Lady Raiders (16-10) once again lost in a win-and-in, lose-and-done scenario.
Gilmer stretched a 26-14 halftime edge to 46-19 at one point and never let Southeast back in a game the Lady Raiders led 9-6 after one quarter.
“It’s the same thing as last time,” Southeast coach Mike Durham said. “We just didn’t shoot well. You’d rather it be a regular Tuesday night when that happens or maybe a state game, because then you made it.”
Southeast, 7B-4A’s No. 3 seed, had an identical sub-region finish a year ago and lost to Pickens in the same round.
In this game, Cricket Wyatt led Southeast with 10 points, while Sydney Covington added nine.
“To win 15 games last year and lose Megan Collins, our leading scorer and rebounder, and Tavi Parris and then win 16 this year says a lot,” Durham said.
• Cedartown girls 66, Dalton 55: The Lady Cats (10-14) fell behind by 10 points at the end of the first quarter and by 16 at halftime, and they never recovered from the slow start.
“It was rough in the first half and it took us some time to get it going,” Dalton coach Lacie Coquerille said. “Cedartown didn’t seem to be too bothered by the (weeklong) layoff, but we dug ourselves into too big of a hole. We made the effort to climb back, but we were never able to do it.”
Leading scorer Sarah Hartshorn finished with 12 points for the Lady Cats, while Callie Smith added 10 and Mia Smith chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds.