MACON, Ga.-Through three quarters of her team's GHSA Class AAA girls' semifinal game against Crisp County, April Besley's heroics weren't needed. When the game got tight, Dalton's version of the Energizer Bunny sprang to life and saved the day.
Besley scored eight of her 11 points and made several key hustle plays in the final period as Dalton edged feisty Crisp County, 53-46, setting up a championship showdown tonight at 7 against Washington County.
The Lady Catamounts (33-0) never trailed and nearly broke the game open early with a 12-point first-period lead. However, the Lady Cougars (15-15) benefited from a sagging zone defense featuring 6-foot-3, 250-pound freshman center Nasheema Oliver and started hitting from the outside to make it a two-point game going into halftime.
"We would execute real well offensively and extend the lead to eight or nine points; then Crisp would hit some 3 pointers and get right back into it," Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said. "We never felt very comfortable until the final horn."
GHSA Class AAA semifinal at Macon
DALTON 53, CRISP COUNTY 46
Crisp County 9 12 12 13 - 46
Dalton 18 5 16 14 - 53
Crisp County (46) - Waters, Mariah Davis 12, Keidia Green 10, Kayla Green 11, Dennard, Colson, Nasheema Oliver 13.
Dalton (53) - Amanda Rector 14, April Besley 11, McKinney 3, Maddie Howell 15, Behr, Thomas 1, Snyder, McCurty 9, Sharp.
3-point goals: Crisp 6 (Ka. Green 3, Davis 2, Ke. Green); Dalton 3 (Howell 3). Other highlights: Quaneisha McCurty 14 r, 7 b; Besley 8 r; Rector 5 s (D); Oliver 15 r (CC). Records: Dalton 33-0; Crisp County 15-15.
A Besley layup off a nice feed from Quaneisha McCurty with 6:15 remaining in the game pushed Dalton's lead to nine points, 44-35, but an 8-2 Crisp surge in just over a minute, capped by Kayla Green's 3-pointer, cut the lead to three. That was when Besley and her hustle took over.
On an inbounds play following a timeout, Besley hit a cutting Amanda Rector for an easy layup with 4:30 to play. It would be the last points for either team for nearly three minutes. The Lady Cats committed turnovers on four consecutive possessions, but with two blocked shots from McCurty, Crisp never took advantage.
The lead was still five when Dalton missed a one-and-one free throw and the 5-foot-6 Besley snared the rebound and made a strong layup. It was the game's single biggest play.
"We needed something to happen right there, and I got inside the other girl and just went after it," said Besley, who ended with eight rebounds. "I'll do anything my team needs, and that was a good opportunity to help us."
After Mariah Davis ended the Crisp drought with a 3-pointer seconds later, Dalton again went to the free-throw line. Besley again snagged the miss and fed Rector, who was fouled and made one free throw.
Besley then helped force a turnover and made two free throws to end the game's scoring.
"April only knows one button - wide open," McKinney said with a smile. "She handled the basketball well and even hit her free throws at the end. Amanda did a great job as well. She picked up three fouls in the first half but never let if affect her game. We had to have her in the ballgame. Our guards played really well.
"Overall, we did what we had to to win the ballgame, and at this time of the year that's all you can ask for."
Maddie Howell topped Dalton with 15 points, with Rector adding 14 and McCurty contributing 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Oliver led Crisp with 13 points and 16 rebounds, and Davis scored 12 points.