February 16, 2013

Northwest girls basketball in region title game

Faced with a tied game in the waning seconds, Northwest Whitfield High School’s girls basketball team got a gift with a timeout. Then Pickens gave the Lady Bruins another when the Dragonettes pressed.

Northwest’s Autumn Blackwell and Macy Weeks made them regret their generosity.

Blackwell drove three-quarters the length of the floor and hit Weeks for a backdoor layup as the buzzer sounded to give the Lady Bruins a 54-52 win in the semifinals of the Region 7-4A tournament Friday night at the Cats Den.

Pickens had scored the tying basket on a running jumper by Kadie Mullinax, and the Dragon-ettes called timeout with 6.2 second remaining. That allowed Northwest coach Greg Brown to set his play. If Pickens held back in a zone that had stymied the Lady Bruins’ offense for much of the second half, then he would take his chance with an outside shot. If the Dragonettes pressed, he wanted to let Blackwell drive and either draw a foul or hit a bucket.

“We were a little in shock when they did put pressure on us,” Brown said. “I perked up a little when I saw that. We got the matchup we wanted, and when they tried to cut Autumn off, she made a great pass.”

The victory pushed the Lady Bruins (20-7) into tonight’s championship game, but it denies local fans a chance to see rivals Dalton and Northwest face each other again.

In the earlier semifinal game, River Ridge (19-8) led by 16 early in the second quarter and Dalton (20-7) was able to get close but never saw the lead as the Lady Knights took a 59-49 victory.

Northwest and River Ridge, which has lost just once this year to Class 4A competition, will play for the region championship at 6 p.m. today. Dalton and Pickens will meet in the consolation game at 3 p.m. All four teams are assured of playing in next week’s Georgia High School Association Class 4A state tournament, which begins on Tuesday.

Brown said the victory over the Dragonettes (19-9) was the culmination of a turnaround that began in the middle of January when thLady Bruins lost back-to-back games to Southeast Whitfield and Dalton. Northwest finished the rest of the season undefeated and won the tiebreaker with Dalton for the sub-region’s No. 1 seed.

Now, the team is guaranteed of hosting at least one round of the state tournament regardless of what happens today.

“Four weeks ago, we couldn’t have won that game,” Brown said. “We would have been on the other side of that. We have been through trials and hardships and found out how to win games like this.”

Weeks said there has been a definite change in the team.

“I think we started working harder and we just came together as a team,” Weeks said. “We all like each other so much, and I think we realized how much fun we have playing together.”

Northwest Whitfield started off the game in control, leading by 11 late in the first quarter, but the Dragonettes started pounding the ball to post players Sarah Smith and Danielle Goss and pulled to within 29-27 on Goss’ three-point play to end the first half.

The duo combined for 30 interior points.

It went back and forth in the second half, with a five-point margin the biggest lead for either team. The Lady Bruins got better help from their backside players when the ball was taken to the block, while Pickens sagged back in a zone to try to cut off the penetration of the Northwest guards. Alice Ann Barber hit a 3-pointer with just over two minutes remaining to give the Lady Bruins a 49-47 lead, and they didn’t trail the rest of the game.

Barber led the Lady Bruins with 15 points, while Blackwell and Weeks each added 10.

River Ridge 59, Dalton 49: Riding a hot streak from the perimeter in the first half, River Ridge took an early lead Dalton did not overcome in advancing to the finals.

Jessica Baker scored all 12 of her points in the first quarter on 3-pointers, and Jessica Mlaska’s bucket in the post gave the Lady Knights a 24-8 lead to start the second quarter.

Dalton answered midway through the period with a 12-2 run capped off by Maddie Howell’s 3-pointer from the wing. River Ridge went to the half up by seven, 29-22, but a 3-pointer from Sarah Stinnett and a steal and layup by Howell brought Dalton to within a bucket.

After River Ridge went ahead 35-27, Dalton answered behind Brooke Thomas and Howell. They scored 10 of the next 12 points to get the Lady Cats back to within a bucket, 41-39.

The teams went back and forth in the final quarter, but Dalton always trailed. Over the last three minutes of the game, the Lady Cats were outscored 10-2.

“They did a good job of finishing,” Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said.

Thomas’ 15 points led Dalton, while Howell added 15. River Ridge’s Jordan Livesay led all scorers with 16.

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