February 22, 2014

Dalton boys basketball has hands full vs. Sandy Creek

Dalton High School’s boys basketball team has been unable to break the Region 6 curse while making state tournament appearances the past two seasons.

The Catamounts lost to visiting Marist in the first round of the Class 4A tournament last year and fell on the road to eventual champion Columbia in the second round of the Class 3A tournament in 2012.

The Cats (19-8), who finished third at this week’s Region 7-4A tournament, hit the road to Tyrone in Fayette County for the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament today. They’ll avoid Region 6 as they take on Region 5 No. 2 seed Sandy Creek (20-8), but Dalton coach Mike Duffie doesn’t think that means his team is getting a much easier test.

“This year, Region 5 is probably the best in the state,” said Duffie, who noted that the region had four teams ranked in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class 4A Top 10 poll at one point this season.

Sandy Creek is currently ranked 10th in the poll after finishing as the region runner-up to Alexander, which is ranked second by the AJC. The Patriots were seeded third entering the region tournament but upset Fayette County in the semifinals to reach the title game, which they lost by 22 points.

While Duffie noted the toughness of Sandy Creek’s region, he also acknowledged the Patriots — despite their ranking, despite hosting — aren’t Columbia, which has five state titles in the past eight seasons.

“When we went and played Columbia, I was honest with the kids and told them that winning that game would be a miracle,” Duffie said. “We are not in that mode this week. Sandy Creek is good, but they aren’t 6-8, 6-8 and 6-9. They are 6-4, 6-4, 6-5. If we do the things we are capable of doing and do them well, we can compete.

“It would probably be an upset to win at their gym, but we are making the trip so we might as well throw it all out there and see what happens.”

Dalton’s third straight state tournament appearance comes after sharing the Sub-region 7B-4A title with Northwest Whitfield and advancing to the Region 7-4A semifinals before losing to eventual champion River Ridge.

The Cats rebounded to beat Cass in Wednesday’s third-place game.

Sandy Creek hasn’t played since its region title game on Monday.

“Maybe them having a few more days off will help us a little if they have to get their legs under them,” Duffie said. “They are quick and athletic. It is going to be tough and we are going to have to control the tempo and hit our shots. We can’t turn the ball over and miss assignments and hang with these guys.”

Junior forward Emier Bowman inside and guards Chris Childs and Braxton Thomas outside have led Dalton. Bowman paces the team’s scoring, averaging 18 points per game.

“We are tournament-tested and have been there before,” Duffie said. “They are a pretty loose group, and not much bothers them. They play hard and have rare highs and rare lows. They practice well and work hard.”

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