By Chris Whitfield
CALHOUN — Shots didn’t fall when the North Murray High School boys basketball needed them to the most.
The Mountaineers lost 58-49 to Cartersville in the Region 5-3A tournament championship game Saturday night at Sonoraville High School.
Despite the defeat, North Murray will host a state tournament game for the first time in program history, facing Hart County on Wednesday when the Class 3A event begins.
The Mountaineers (21-7) went 3-for-19 from beyond the 3-point line and 16-for-51 overall, trimming the Purple Hurricanes’ 11-point third-quarter lead to just one in the final three minutes of the game. Still, they were unable to take the lead.
“We had every shot we wanted and shot poorly,” said North Murray coach Tim Ellis, whose team suffered its third loss to Cartersville this season. “If we shoot better, we beat them by 20.”
Cartersville (26-1) led 34-23 after Corey Tobin’s baseline jumper, but North Murray trimmed the deficit to 38-34 off nine points from Zach Vess, who was playing with three fouls.
“We talked about it at halftime,” Purple Hurricanes coach Mike Tobin said. “We said, ‘If he’s in the game, then take it to him.’ He did a good job playing in the second half.”
The Purple Hurricanes led 42-35 in the final period before the Mountaineers went on a 10-4 run, capped by Hinton McConkey’s steal-and-layup with 2:55 remaining in the game.
On the next possession, Ryan Davis hit a 3-pointer and Carters-ville led 49-45.
A.J. Mosby’s 3-point play — part of his 19-point performance — on the next possession put North Murray in a 52-45 hole with 1:58 to play.
“We should’ve won,” Vess said. “I felt like everybody counted us out because we were the third seed.”
After Cartersville’s early 10-4 lead, North Murray’s Austen Horn hit a 3-pointer and Brady Swilling converted a 3-point play, part of a 10-0 run.
But the Purple Hurricanes scored 11 straight from the final two minutes of the opening quarter to three minutes into the second.
Cartersville held a 30-21 halftime lead.
Vess had 26 points and 13 rebounds but fouled out in the final minute. No other North Murray player scored in double digits.
• North Murray girls 36, LFO 29: Lady Mountaineers coach Keith Robinette will take the two earlier losses to the Lady Warriors as long as it means keeping their win in the third-place game of the Region 5-3A tournament at Sonoraville.
North Murray (17-11) led 7-1 after one period and 16-11 at halftime before scoring only four third-quarter points and trailing 21-20 entering the final period. The Lady Mountaineers nearly doubled their offensive production with 16 fourth-quarter points.
“It was a little sluggish,” Robinette said. “In the first half, we missed four wide-open layups.”
Without senior post Erin Robinson, who was inactive due to illness, Meagan Spivey and Abigail Bradley each scored eight points to lead North Murray. Kara Deal added seven.
“The adversity that we faced in this tournament,” Robinette said. “The top-scoring post is out for illness, and Grace Phillips, Meagan Spivey and Casey Chapman all had to step up.”
LFO won 53-43 and 55-51 in the regular-season matchups.
“The game at our place, the second time we played them, we blew it,” Robinette said. “We had double-digit leads and couldn’t get the stop we needed to.
“I’ll trade those two losses for this win any day.”
North Murray will travel to play the Region 8 No. 2 seed, either North Oconee or Elbert County, in Tuesday’s opening round of the Class 3A state tournament.