TUNNEL HILL —
Instead of driving in for an easy layup, Northwest Whitfield High School’s Mallory Souther took yet another 3-point shot.
With every one that went in, the ending of Wednesday’s Region 7-4A championship game went from motivational fodder to a distant memory for the senior forward.
It was just as true for the rest of the Lady Bruins, who used a big third quarter to win 61-48 against visiting Carrollton in Friday’s opening round of the Class 4A state tournament. Northwest, which finished runner-up to earn the No. 2 seed for Region 7, travels to Stone Mountain on Monday to face Region 6 champion Redan in the second round. Redan beat Walnut Grove 97-38 on Friday.
Souther made a would-be game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Wednesday’s 50-45 loss to River Ridge. However, the officials called a traveling violation, negating the basket, and Northwest (24-4) settled for second place to the Lady Knights for the second year in a row. Souther who started for Northwest’s softball team as it won the Class 4A state titles the past two seasons, was frustrated by the turn of events in the Region 7-4A title game.
“She took it extremely hard after the loss Wednesday,” Northwest coach Greg Brown said. “But Mallory is a high-character kid and Mallory is a winner. Mallory has been part of a lot of wins and a lot of different things. She has gone through disappointment and she has gone through success.”
Despite Wednesday’s loss, the Lady Bruins had a figurative tomorrow on the basketball court two days later. They made the most of it. Senior point guard Halle Ford put Northwest ahead 25-24 with a 3-pointer early in the third quarter. After a Carrollton (22-7) basket, Ford found senior Macy Weeks for a layup and a 27-26 lead.
Souther followed with her first 3-pointer of the game at the 4:59 mark of the third quarter and forced a timeout for Carrollton, the No. 3 seed from Region 5. After Northwest forced a turnover and Ford came away with the ball in the corner, she rocketed a pass across the court to Souther, who made her second consecutive 3-point attempt.
Another steal from Ford followed, and with a three-on-two fast break, Souther received the pass and stopped near the same spot behind the 3-point line.
She knew it would go in. Northwest led 36-26.
“After hitting that first one, I felt more confident in myself,” said Souther, who finished with 14 points. “Once I start hitting shots, I feel more confident.”
The Lady Bruins advance to the second round for the first time since 2010, when they reached the state title game. Last season, Northwest lost at home to Marist in the first round.
Last year’s opening-round loss probably wasn’t on the Lady Bruins’ minds after Wednesday’s disappointment, though.
“There was no doubt we would bounce back,” Brown said. “To see us step up on the biggest stage of all erases everything from Wednesday night.”
Northwest had a strong night shooting. The Lady Bruins were 8-for-17 (47 percent) from 3-point range and 18-for-35 (51 percent) from the field.
They made 17 of 21 free throws, with Ford earning nine of her game-high 17 points from the foul line. She also had eight assists and six steals.
Weeks added 10 points and Bria Clemmons chipped in seven.
Brooklyn Emory led Carrollton with 16 points, while T.J. Jackson scored 13.
Carrollton coach Shon Thomaston said his players “knew coming in who the shooters were” both from scouting reports and watching Northwest’s region championship game.
“At the same time, it’s a lot different talking about it than actually doing it,” he said. “... A kid that shoots the ball like (Souther) did — I don’t think they missed many in the second half — that’s hard to defend.”
After scoring the game’s first five points, Northwest led 15-9 after Mary Kate Allen’s layup with 1:24 left in the opening quarter. Northwest led 15-11 when the period ended and 18-11 after Karli Williams’ 3-pointer.
Carrollton then scored the game’s next 10 points, with Malariah Ranson’s steal and layup putting the visitors ahead 21-18.
Carrollton led 23-20 at halftime after Northwest scored five points in the second quarter.
“In that third quarter, we were able to get in transition,” Brown said. “That’s where a lot of our (3-pointers) came from.”
After an 11-0 run in the third quarter, Northwest led 43-31 entering the final period. Carrollton trimmed that to 45-38 around halfway through, but Souther’s fourth 3-pointer of the game put the Lady Bruins back up by 10 with 3:14 left.
Their final 13 points came from the free throw line.
“They stole the momentum right away in the third quarter,” Thomaston said. “Almost as soon as we walked out the locker room, momentum was gone.”