In both games Friday at the Cats Den, there were signs Dalton High School and Northwest Whitfield’s boys basketball teams might play for third place in Region 7-4A.
Then Brandon Painter’s corner 3-pointer magically bounced off the backboard and rolled in for Dalton.
Then freshman Ty Pendley hit the “game-changer,” and Tanner Quarles’ 4-point play happened for Northwest.
So instead of the rivalry’s third episode being for pride, it’ll be one for the region — the first time it has ever happened.
Dalton’s heroics at the second- and third-quarter buzzers helped it win 66-62 against Sub-region 7A champs Gilmer. Northwest overcame a 13-point third quarter deficit and defeated River Ridge 59-56. Both victors clinch at least one home game in the Class 4A state playoffs, and the Bruins and Catamounts will meet tonight at 7:30 for the third time this season with a chance to win a region championship.
River Ridge (12-15) knocked down seven first-half 3-pointers and led 40-27 at halftime. For nearly three quarters, Northwest (22-3) showed impatience on offense, often taking quick 3-pointers from well beyond the line.
“We were down 13, and I felt like we were trying to get 13 points in one play,” said Quarles, who finished just 3-for-13 from beyond the 3-point line and 5-for-15 overall but led the Bruins with 17 points Trailing 44-32 in the third quarter, Northwest turned to its freshman.
Making his first appearance in the game, Pendley knocked down a 3-pointer and started a 7-0 quarter-ending run.
“The game changer?” Quarles said of Pendley’s shot. “Whenever he made it, I was feeling it.
“That’s when I started making shots.”
Trailing 44-43, Quarles hit a 3-pointer and drew a foul with 5:42 left in the game. It caused an emotional fist pump from Bruins coach Ryan Richards and gave Northwest its first lead of the night. The Bruins didn’t trail the rest of the way.
“I hope that isn’t on film,” Richards said of his reaction. “I do recall doing that, but I didn’t know I was doing it at the time. ... I try to stay a little calmer than that.”
O’Shea Hill added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Northwest.
River Ridge hit one 3-pointer in the second half and finished 8-for-15 from the free throw line.
“We got some good shots,” Knights coach Matt Bohon said. “We just didn’t hit them. We were hitting them in the first half, but they didn’t go in the second half. That’s the way it goes. ... I’m sure we missed enough free throws to win.”
Steven Spears led all scorers with 22 points, and Jeremy Mims added 16 for River Ridge, which will play Gilmer today at 4:30 p.m. for third place. Richards said this is the first time Northwest’s boys will play for a region title.
“It’s a pretty big step for us,” Richards said. “This is the second sub-region championship. We won the sub-region in 1991. We’ve never played for the region championship.”
This is the fourth time in Dalton (19-6) coach Mike Duffie’s seven seasons coaching the Cats that he will play for a region title. The Cats lost to Rome in 2007 and 2008 and to Allatoona last year. This is also the third time Dalton and Northwest will play this season. The Bruins won 63-57 in Tunnel Hill and 66-64 two weeks ago in the Cats Den.
“There’s just such familiarity here,” Duffie said. “Our kids know theirs. ... This would be an incredible atmosphere in here. For the region title. When is the last time that has happened here? I don’t think it has ever happened in (boys) basketball.”
A 12-point halftime lead for Dalton disappeared when Gilmer (23-4) tied it at 53 with 5:23 left in the contest.
The Cats then scored seven straight points with Painter’s 3-pointer from the corner somehow bouncing off the backboard and rolling in. It was the last of his three 3-pointers and 13 points and gave the Cats enough breathing room to hold off Gilmer.
“Let’s call it the miracle bank shot,” Duffie said. “It chipped off the top of the backboard.”
Dalton used a 17-2 run to lead 23-14 with 6:19 left in the first half and 38-26 at halftime with Alex Bautista’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“Mainly just the second quarter,” Bobcats coach Jordan Hice said. “We couldn’t get the shots to go in. We had the open shots, but we weren’t hitting anything and let the, go up by 12.”
At the end of the third quarter, Bautista’s 3-pointer was too long, but Gilmer’s defenders did not secure the rebound. Rico Mears had an uncontested layup leave his hands right before the buzzer and roll in to give Dalton a 49-44 advantage.
“Most of the time, when that happens and the ball comes off, it’s because the player shot it early,” Mears said. “They usually shoot it early, so I just grabbed it and put it up to see what I could do with it.”
Mears’ 22 points and nine rebounds led the Cats, while Rucker scored 16 points and Bautista added 15. In the first half, substitutes Braxton Thomas, Chris Childs, Emier Bowman and Jackson Dinges all played. In the second half, Dalton used the starting unit of Bautista, Painter, Rucker, Mears and Robert Enck the entire time.
“I liked what I had,” Duffie said. “If they can stand it, then ride it. ... I felt like I had the five out there who knew the game.”
Gilmer’s Joe Bob Charles led all scorers with 26 points, while Wheeler Lancey added 13.