WHITE, Ga. - Northwest Whitfield did nearly everything it had to do to win the Region 7-AAAA girls' basketball championship Wednesday night. Almost everything but not quite enough as River Ridge withstood a furious Lady Bruins' start to win, 51-45.
Northwest (23-4) will host a first-round playoff game Friday at 6 against Carrollton.
"We didn't have a good night shooting, but I couldn't have asked for a better start," said Northwest coach Greg Brown, whose team led 15-3 after six minutes and out-rebounded the taller Knights 32-20. "I told them if we out-rebounded them we would win, and I was so proud of them for the work they did on the boards, but it didn't work out that way."
Northwest still led 21-12 early in the second quarter before the Knights (21-7) found their range. Jessica Baker, Alexis Pepin and Lucy Stone hit consecutive 3-pointers in a two-minute span to tie the game at 21 before 6-foot-2 senior post Jessica Mlaska, saddled with early foul trouble, came back in to score eight points in the final four minutes of the half as River Ridge led, 32-27.
Following a cold-shooting third period by both teams, Northwest scored seven straight, four from Macy Weeks, to tie the game at 39 with 3:50 to play, then used six consecutive Halle Ford points to again tie the score at 45 with 39 seconds to play.
River Ridge coach Jason Taylor then called upon Stone to take control and the just-named region player of the year responded with a strong drive, scoring on a runner as she was fouled. Her free throw made it a three-point game with 27 seconds to play.
"She played like the region player of the year down the stretch," said Taylor of Stone, who scored 10 of her team-high 15 points in the final quarter-and-a-half. "She's been starting since she was a freshman so she's played well over 120 games, so I have all the confidence in the world in her."
Northwest appeared to have tied the game on Mallory Souther's 3-pointer from the wing with 10 seconds to play, but the senior was called for traveling. Stone then hit two free throws to seal the title.
"The end of the game didn't lose it for us," Brown said. "We had many opportunities in the paint we didn't take advantage of and we had several careless turnovers. I hate it for my seniors because of how hard they've played and how much they wanted to win. I feel good about our matchup Friday and we're going to bounce back and get these seniors a playoff win at home."
Earlier Friday, the Heritage girls and Dalton boys claimed consolation wins. The Lady Generals, who downed Gilmer County, 56-49, will travel to Fayette County Friday while Dalton, 67-60 winners over Cass, will go to Sandy Creek Saturday.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.