January 10, 2014

A really big show

Rivals Dalton and Northwest Whitfield ready for sub-region battle

The high school boys basketball teams at Dalton and Northwest Whitfield look a lot different this year than last. As for the girls teams, Northwest is rolling — and Dalton is looking to do the same.

Regardless of how the teams fared in the first half of this season, though, no one needs motivational tricks to get hyped for this game.

The schools face off today in Sub-region 7B-4A clashes at Dalton’s Cats Den, with the girls matchup at 7 p.m. and the boys following. It’s the first half of a home-and home league series for a rivalry that always a sure bet to bring an energetic atmosphere regardless of the sport.

“It’s definitely a rivalry,” Northwest senior Andy Whisenant said. “It goes way back, obviously. We know these guys from rec ball and from just living around here.”

Northwest won all three of last season’s meetings with the Catamounts on the way to claiming its first region title. However, the Bruins graduated three of last year’s starters — post O’Shea Hill, point guard Kaleb King and wing Tanner Quarles. Hill and Quarles made The Daily Citizen’s 2012-2013 All-Area Boys Basketball Team.

“They have more returning starters than we do,” Dalton coach Mike Duffie said. “O’Shea is gone. That’s big. Other than that, they’re like us, doing the same things.”

Dalton graduated all five of its starters — forward Alex Bautista, guards Robert Enck and Rico Mears, forward Brandon Painter and post Demond Rucker. Three others on last year’s roster for the Cats — Cole Calfee, Karey Dills and Jackson Dinges — also graduated.

This year’s edition of the team, led by guard Braxton Thomas and post Emier Bowman, is 8-4 overall and 1-0 in league play after a road victory against Heritage-Catoosa this past Friday.

Along with forward Caleb Storey, Whisenant has helped lead Northwest to a 7-4 record. The Bruins — who won their first sub-region game this past Saturday, beating LaFayette in Tunnel Hill — expect a challenge tonight from one of their most familiar foes.

“They’re extremely athletic,” Bruins coach Ryan Richards said. “I think the Emier Bowman kid is as athletic as any in this area.

“I think the biggest key of the game will be rebounding. ... It may come down to that stat. Whoever wins that stat may win the game.”

Winning all three of last year’s matchups — all by four points or fewer — helped Northwest tie the series at 10-10 since the 2004-2005 season, according to results posted at the Ga.PrepCountry.com.

Northwest’s girls stood out in the first half of the season as a potential contender for the region title that evaded them last season when they lost the championship game to River Ridge.

The Lady Bruins are 11-3 and 1-0 in sub-region play entering tonight’s game with the Lady Cats. With four-year starter Halle Ford at point guard, returning starting post Macy Weeks, role player-turned-starter Mallory Souther and others who have played in this series before, Northwest hopes to improve a 12-7 series edge since 2004-2005, according to Ga.PrepCountry.com results. The teams split last season’s meetings.

“We have some girls who have played in these games before,” Lady Bruins coach Greg Brown said. “It is different. I don’t care what anyone says. It’s a different animal when you play games in this series. I think that helps a little, but you still have to throw records out because both teams will play hard.”

Dalton’s girls, meanwhile, are the lone team among these four rivals that lost its first sub-region game. The Lady Catamounts are 6-6 overall after graduating six seniors last year, including The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Maddie Howell.

They only have two seniors, guards Emily Sherrill and Destinee Woods, but along with junior post Hannah Cox, the two most important names this year have been freshmen — Bowen Land and Gabby Wright.

“It is just one game,” Dalton coach Lacie Coquerille said, “but I think our biggest issue is experience and confidence. A win against your biggest rival can do wonders for a young team.”

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