By Devin Golden
WHITE — Northwest Whitfield High School’s girls basketball team needed a defensive stop to force overtime in the semifinals Tuesday at the Region 7-4A tournament.
That one stop led to many more.
The Lady Bruins can thank senior Halle Ford for forcing the extra period against Gilmer with a clutch 3-pointer, and they can thank one another for unbreakable defense in overtime of the 53-40 victory at Cass High School. The Lady Bobcats were held scoreless in overtime by Northwest, which advances to today’s 7 p.m. championship against River Ridge at Cass.
Tuesday’s semifinals winners clinched hosting privileges for the first round of the Class 4A state tournament on Friday — River Ridge beat Heritage-Catoosa in the later semifinal — but the region title and a No. 1 seed will be on the line today as the Lady Knights and Lady Bruins clash in a repeat of last year’s championship. River Ridge beat Northwest 72-47 last season at Dalton High School, outscoring the Lady Bruins 23-9 in the third quarter and cruising from there to the title.
On Tuesday, to even give its defense a chance to shine in overtime, Northwest (23-3) needed points. With the Lady Bruins trailing 40-36 with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter, Northwest’s Macy Weeks drew a foul and went 1 of 2 at the line. Gilmer’s Bailey Charles then missed two free throws with 49 seconds left and Northwest had the ball in a one-possession game.
Ford took her 3-point shot with 28.4 seconds left, and the ball touched nothing but net.
“She is big time,” Northwest coach Greg Brown said of the point guard, who finished with 20 points.
“She has hit that shot before in big games. I knew it was going in when it left her hands. There isn’t anyone else’s hands I’d want the ball in for that situation.”
With the score tied at 40, Gilmer (16-9) called timeout to set up a final play. Charles’ shot was off, and a Gilmer offensive rebound netted another miss at the buzzer. The Lady Bruins had held, something they’d do the rest of the game.
“I have told them from day one, when you get to the end of the season, you have to rely on your half-court defense,” Brown said. “We practice it so much that I fully expected us to get a stop at the end of regulation.
“But I think the momentum-changer was the tip in overtime. It worked exactly how we drew it up.”
Peyton Maret’s jump-ball tip to start overtime went directly to Weeks, and a pass to Ford for a go-ahead layup finished a designed play and started the end for Gilmer, which entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed from Sub-region 7A-4A. Northwest is the No. 1 seed from Sub-region 7B-4A.
“(Coach Brown) said, ‘Just hit the open man,’” said Weeks, who finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds. “It’s either Halle or Mallory (Souther) cutting.”
From there, Bria Clemmons made a free throw, Maret converted a layup and Clemmons and Ford each made four more free throws to finish the game’s scoring.
After Britton Farlow’s two free throws put Gilmer ahead 40-36 with 1:55 left in regulation, the Lady Bobcats went nine possessions without scoring. They turned the ball over four times in overtime.
“We kind of just flattened out,” said Gilmer coach Kim Charles, whose team will take on Heritage at 4 p.m. today for third place. “We had the game and we just didn’t put it away.”
After surviving a close contest, the Lady Bruins are expecting more of the same with the title on the line — but Tuesday’s test might have been just what they needed.
“I think this game prepares us,” Ford said.
Play stopped for 10 minutes in the first quarter when half the lights in the gym turned off. Gilmer led 10-6 at the time and 10-7 when the opening quarter ended. Weeks started the second quarter with a three-point play, stole the inbounds pass and found Ford for a 3-pointer.
Northwest led 21-19 at halftime, but Gilmer took the lead briefly in the third quarter. Souther and Ford hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 31-26 lead, and the Lady Bruins led 35-31 entering the last period.
Gilmer started the final eight minutes by scoring the first five points and led 36-35 until Weeks’ free throw tied the game. Whitley Reece made a jumper to put Gilmer ahead 38-36 with three minutes remaining in regulation.
Farlow scored 15 points for Gilmer, while Charles added 10.
• River Ridge boys 67, Dalton 28: The Catamounts (18-8) stuck with the Sub-region 7A-4A champs for one quarter and were tied at 13 heading to the second period.
Then River Ridge’s Nick Masterson started hitting everything.
He made seven 3-pointers in the first half — ending the run with a 4-point play with 1.2 seconds left in the second quarter — to help stake the Knights (19-8) to a 38-16 lead at halftime.
Masterson, a 6-foot-6 guard who has committed to Kennesaw State, finished with 31 points despite not playing in the fourth quarter.
River Ridge led 20-16 after Mark Sims’ 3-pointer with 5:56 left in the half and scored 25 straight points until Dalton’s Braxton Thomas made a free throw early in the second half.
“Bad night,” Dalton coach Mike Duffie said. “Bad game. Get ready for tomorrow.”
Dalton, the No. 2 seed from 7B-4A, plays Cass at 5:30 p.m. today for third place.
Thomas had 10 points to lead Dalton, which went 1-for-12 on 3-pointers.
“As well as Nick can shoot, we focus on playing good defense,” Knights coach Matt Bohon said.
River Ridge will play Gilmer for the championship at 8:30 tonight.