CHATSWORTH, Ga. - Success in the athletic arena is nothing new for Calhoun High School, and if the first few weeks are any indication, the basketball season will be no exception.
Both Calhoun teams will play in tonight's finals of the Mistletoe Madness tournament at North Murray High School after strong performances in Friday's semifinals. That the talented and experienced Yellow Jackets advanced with a 71-53 win over Gordon Lee was not a shocker, but the Lady Yellow Jackets upset neighboring rival Sonoraville, 60-44, and may have surprised even their own coach with the extent of the win.
The 7 p.m. girls' final will pit Calhoun (7-3) against host North Murray, a 42-41 winner over Dade County on Friday. The boys' championship game at about 8:30 has the 6-0 Yellow Jackets facing Heritage, which downed North Murray 42-36. The girls' third-place game at 4 has Sonoraville against Dade County, with the Gordon Lee and North Murray boys following at 5:30.
"We're still trying to find ourselves," said Calhoun girls' coach Jerry Pruett, whose team graduated all five starters off last season's 26-2 team that reached the Class AA quarterfinals. "Every night is a different combination, and we found one that works in the second half tonight."
In avenging an earlier 12-point loss to the Lady Phoenix (7-3), Calhoun used a sagging defense designed to limit the touches of Sonoraville's dominating post, Carrie Cheeks. The Lady Jackets also found their shooting touch in the second half, erasing a 24-20 deficit during a 15-2 run that lasted the entire third period.
"We played a gimmick defense to try and keep Cheeks from going off, and they struggled to make outside shots," Pruett said. "Our kids did a good job of executing it. We haven't really run it in practice, but it's not hard and we had nothing to lose by trying it."
Calli Davis led the second-half surge with 13 of her game-high 20 points. She scored seven consecutive points in the third quarter as Calhoun built a nine-point lead. The lead got to seven two minutes into the final period when Davis hit a driving layup and never dipped below that the rest of the way, though Cheeks had seven of her 19 points in the final period.
The Calhoun boys never had to rally, scoring their game's first eight points and leading Gordon Lee (3-4) 20-6 after the first period. Senior forward Austin Byrd led the early blitzkrieg with 10 points, two of his baskets coming off passes from guard Chandler Curtis and another off a feed from Kaelen Riley. The Jackets, in fact, had seven assists on their first nine baskets.
"We started out well, even though we had some trouble finishing quarters," Calhoun coach Vince Layson said. "We put a little pressure on them to get our tempo up, and the guys responded well."
The lead grew to 29-8 midway through the second quarter on a Byrd 3-pointer and a Curtis drive, and though the Trojans regrouped to outscore Calhoun over the final two and a half quarters, the margin was too much to erase.
Byrd led the winners with 20 points, with Jireh Wilson adding 11 and post Keyth Fightmaster getting 10. Wilson led Calhoun with eight assists, while Chandler, who is fitting in seamlessly with his new teammates after transferring from Gordon Central last spring, added seven.
Garrett McAllister topped Gordon Lee with 17 points, Samuel Welsh adding 10.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.