In a showdown between rivals with the Sub-region 7B-4A standings lead on the line, Dalton High’s girls found the right mix of defensive pressure in the third quarter and did what they needed to do at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Hosting revitalized Southeast Whitfield on Friday night at The Cats Den, Dalton went on an 18-2 run in the third quarter to turn around a five-point deficit on their way to a 62-53 win over the Lady Raiders.
“The biggest thing was effort and cutting back on the turnovers,” Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said. “The girls responded in the second half. We made a slight adjustment on the press, and it worked out.”
The victory puts the Lady Cats (16-4, 5-0) alone at the top of the league standings as the lone unbeaten at the midpoint of the sub-region schedule. The loss was the first in sub-region play for the Lady Raiders (11-6, 4-1).
“I have to do a better job of getting us prepared,” Southeast coach Mike Durham said. “We didn’t do a good job of handling their press in the second half, and we will do a better job of handling that next time. We just had too many turnovers tonight to be real effective in the third quarter.”
Southeast had done enough to to claim a 36-31 lead with five minutes remaining in the third period despite having leading scorer Megan Collins on the bench after she picked up her third foul early in the second quarter. Tavi Parris’ shots on the perimeter and Dalton’s inability to convert on free-throw opportunities gave the Lady Raiders a 30-29 lead at the end of the first half after a Parris 3-pointer.
But it was a rough-and-tumble first half as the two teams combined for 26 fouls.
“In the first half, our press wasn’t very effective and we just couldn’t score,” McKinney said. “We had been averaging about 40 points in the first half, and we only had 29, giving up 10 offensive rebounds to Southeast. Give Southeast a lot of credit, because they played a very tough game.”
But Dalton’s press became effective midway through the third quarter, leading to steals, easy baskets, free throws and a 12-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a 43-36 lead. Southeast sophomore guard Cricket Wyatt hit an 18-footer to end the run, but three more Dalton baskets pushed the lead out to 11, and the Lady Cats had control of the game.
“Megan with three fouls in the first half definitely hurt us,” Durham said. “She missed about a full quarter of play, and you could tell that it hurt her rhythm a little bit. Other girls stepped up and played well, and I was pleased with that. She isn’t the only player on our team, but we are definitely a better team with her on the floor.”
Dalton senior Carson Sharp, who finished with 11 points and was one of four Lady Cats in double figures, said the third quarter was about going back to basics.
“We weren’t rebounding like we should have been, and we had to put a body on someone and make our free throws,” she said. “With our press, we just had to talk more and communicate better as a team, and that really paid off with some turnovers and easy baskets.”
Southeast tried to make a fourth-quarter comeback, with back-to-back 3-pointers from Parris and Collins cutting the Dalton lead back to 56-52 with 2:01 remaining, but the Lady Cats went 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:33 to seal the win.
Parris led all scorers with 17 points, and Collins added 14 for the Lady Raiders. Guard Brooke Thomas had 16 to lead Dalton, while Maddie Howell finished with 15 and Sarah Stinnett added 10.
“We are playing hard and getting better, and that is what I like,” McKinney said. “At Christmas we were in a little lull, but we didn’t flinch. I feel like we are getting better and better each night, and that is a good thing to have happening.”
• Dalton boys 77, Southeast 52: Senior guard Alex Bautista finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and the Cats pressured the Raiders into 14 first-half turnovers as they cruised to the sub-region win.
Defensive intensity helped the Cats (14-4, 4-1) jump out to a 12-2 lead in the first quarter. The Raiders (3-15, 2-3) kept it close until the half, when they trailed 37-23.
Dalton coach Mike Duffie asked his team for a little more in the second half.
“We came out the first three minutes playing great but couldn’t finish a play,” Duffie said. “We weren’t playing bad, but I thought our pressure took a step back. We turned it up there (in the second half) where we got a little more consistent pressure.”
The Cats built on that lead with a 13-2 run, going ahead 49-25 some two minutes into the third quarter.
“We knew we needed to handle the pressure a little better, with the turnovers in the first half,” Southeast coach Jake Dickey said. “The pressure got to us tonight, and we have to continue to get better.”
Dalton’s Rico Mears put in another solid effort with 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Demond Rucker added 10 points and six rebounds.
Chaz Payne led Southeast in scoring with 16.
— Correspondent Dave Gordon contributed to this story.