TUNNEL HILL, Ga. - Greg Brown may not enjoy watching the film of Wednesday night's 58-34 loss to Marist in the GHSA Class AAAA girls' first round playoff game, but that doesn't mean the Northwest Whitfield coach won't use it to his advantage.
The Lady War Eagles, fresh off surviving the wars of playing in the most talented region in the state, proved their top-five ranking by out-shooting, out-defending and out-muscling the Lady Bruins at every turn. Brown, whose team ends its season 19-9 after making the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, hopes his team learned something.
"They come from the toughest region in the state," Brown said of Region 6. "Playing Columbia and Redan five times, they're prepared for the state tournament and, frankly, we're not. Now, that's not a knock on our region as much as it is praising theirs.
"Offensively, we couldn't do what we wanted to do because of their pressure. The biggest difference overall was that they were physically stronger than we are at pretty much every level."
That showed in the opening minutes when Marist went on its first big run of the game, a 16-4 spurt that featured five driving layups -- four by cat-quick forward Bridget Ochuko -- a 3-pointer and a putback. The Lady Bruins, when getting the ball across midcourt, were getting good looks at the basket, but few shots fell.
An 18-8 first-period deficit quickly grew to 15 on a two Ochuko free throws three minutes into the second quarter. And when Northwest sagged inside to cut off the driving lanes, Briana Bell took over. She hit a pair of 3-pointers in the period, which ended with Marist holding a comfortable 32-17 lead.
Bell then scored nine points in the third to end any Lady Briuns' comeback hopes. The 24-point win was proof, Marist coach Kimberly Hixon said, that tough competition strengthens already-good teams.
"As much as we hate it during the year we need to thank them right now," she said of her region rivals. "The speed of the game is so tremendous that we have to adjust to it or get blown out. I was proud of my kids for the way we defended tonight. We hit some 3-pointers, which loosened them up and that helped because we couldn't really get into the lane because they were sagging."
Brown, though disappointed in the lopsided loss, believes his team is back on the right track after the playoff hiatus.
"A month ago we lost by 20 to Dalton here and to Southeast at the buzzer and I didn't know where we were going at that point," he said. "Then we ran off eight in a row before losing in the region final. It could have gone the other way, but the kids showed great character and I believe we've turned the corner. The younger kids will learn from this."
Bell led Marist (20-8) with 18 points, with Ochuko adding 11 and guard Kelsey Carrier 10. Ochuko and Dominique Oden had eight of the team's 15 steals. Kaitlin Wade topped Northwest with 12 points.