Dalton High School’s girls basketball team wasn’t at its best offensively in the first half Tuesday night, but Southeast Whitfield let their visitors off the hook.
The Lady Raiders’ shooting went cold in the first and fourth quarters, while Dalton found its offensive balance in the second half to take a 51-41 victory in Sub-region 7B-4A. It was a key victory for the Lady Catamounts, who guaranteed themselves a share of the top spot in the sub-region and no worse than a No. 2 seed for next week’s Region 7-4A tournament.
Dalton’s girls (19-6) are 8-2 in sub-region play, and with Northwest Whitfield’s win over Ridgeland on Tuesday, Dalton and Northwest are tied atop of the sub-region standings with two losses each. However, the Lady Bruins have one more game remaining on the schedule, hosting Heritage-Catoosa on Thursday in their regular-season finalé.
Should Northwest win, Lady Cats coach McKinney said a coin flip would be used to determine the No. 1 seed. The Lady Cats and Lady Bruins have split their two regular-season games.
But no matter the outcome of the seeding, McKinney said he was just happy to be in position for the top after his team struggled in the first half.
“We scored 21 points in the first half, and that is just not us and is not going to win a lot of ball games,” McKinney said.
Thankfully for Dalton, Southeast’s offense was worse.
The Lady Raiders made just 26 percent of their shots from the field in the first half, going scoreless in the first three minutes of the game. It was a pattern that repeated when Southeast went scoreless over a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, and Dalton extended a 39-37 lead to 45-37 with 53 seconds remaining to ice the game.
“It is going to happen,” Southeast coach Mike Durham said. “Shots aren’t going to fall every time, but we played well on the defensive end. But Dalton did a good job late in the third quarter and fourth quarter of getting the shots they needed.”
Despite their rough beginning offensively, the Lady Raiders (15-9, 6-4) did enough to limit Dalton.
The Lady Cats led 21-17 at halftime after Southeast’s Cricket Wyatt hit three consecutive free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt with 32 seconds left in the first half.
The game could have been closer, but Dalton’s Taylor Behr was able to pick up some of the slack as Southeast concentrated on stopping Dalton’s Maddie Howell, who finished with a team-high 18 points. Behr had just a single basket in the first half, but she was able to find holes in the Lady Raiders’ defense.
“Coach McKinney had told us to concentrate on shot fakes against their defense, and I was able to take advantage,” said Behr, who finished with 15 points. “They were really overplaying us on defense, and I was able to fake and drive to the basket.”
Dalton’s Carson Sharp made a free throw to start the second half, but Southeast went on a 9-0 run to take a 26-22 lead. The Lady Cats responded with an 11-4 burst to end the third quarter ahead 33-30.
The Lady Raiders got back to within a point with Wyatt’s transition basket to start the fourth, but no closer. After Wyatt hit a 3-pointer with just less than five minutes to play to cut Dalton’s lead to 39-37, Southeast went scoreless the next four minutes.
Wyatt finished with 20 points to lead all scorers.
• Dalton boys 83, Southeast 45: Despite early foul trouble for leading scorers Alex Bautista and Rico Mears, 11 different players scored for Dalton (17-6, 7-3) in the blowout.
Bautista picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game, and Mears soon followed him to the bench.
Bautista finished with 13 points, but they were all scored in the third quarter. Braxton Thomas had eight points in the decisive second quarter — helping Dalton post a 20-point halftime lead against the Raiders (4-21, 2-8) — and finished with 10. Demond Rucker added 11 for the Cats.
Southeast will play at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Dalton against the No. 5 seed from the sub-region, with the winner advancing to next week’s region tournament.
The Cats will wait to see the outcome of the regular season to find out their seeding for the tournament.
Northwest has clinched the top seed, and if Heritage loses either of its final two regular-season games, Dalton will be the No. 2 seed.