Observations on three northwest Georgia girls’ basketball teams playing in Tuesday’s Elite Eight

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Murray County head coach Chris Tipton leads his young team into Tuesday night's GHSA Class AA Elite Eight matchup at Butler.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Murray County head coach Chris Tipton leads his young team into Tuesday night's GHSA Class AA Elite Eight matchup at Butler.

The GHSA Elite Eight basketball playoffs will be held Tuesday and Wednesday and, in northwest Georgia, the girls are leading the way. In today's list, Lindsey Young looks at the three teams still in the hunt for a state championship and the challenges they face.

› Class AAAAA: Dalton (20-9) at Arabia Mountain (26-2)

It's hard to believe there is a more contrasting matchup in the state. Dalton takes a veteran squad to Lithonia to meet an Arabia Mountain team that is dominated by freshmen.

The Lady Rams, in fact, have seven freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors on their roster and the team's three leading scorers are all first-year players. If the game were in Dalton that reliance on such youth might give the Lady Catamounts a decided edge, but the coin flip to decide home sites in games of equal seeding went against Dalton.

On the court, this game will likely be decided in the backcourt, where both teams have thrived in the postseason. Arabia Mountain often plays four guards at the same time, led by Shanya Heath, who leads the team with 21.7 points per game, in assists at nearly six per contest and in steals at five. Charmaine Owens is the only other player in double figures (13.5 points per game) and she also gets nearly five steals a contest.

Dalton is capable of handling such pressure as senior Kamara Washington is coming off a strong floor game against guard-oriented Creekside, while fellow senior Emma Hefner has also been through several postseason wars. Dalton has an edge inside with senior Grace Ridley, who is coming off a 24-point, 10-rebound effort against Creekside.

› Class AA: Murray County (23-6) at Butler (21-9)

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts in Chatsworth after graduating several players who helped turn around the program, but coach Chris Tipton's young team has caught fire and takes an 11-game win streak to Augusta (like Dalton, Murray was a victim of the coin flip).

The Lady Indians, who played one of the toughest schedules in Class AA, are balanced, with four starters averaging nine points or more, and they win with defense — the team has allowed more than 50 points just seven times and held their two playoff opponents to a combined 75 points.

Sophomore Callan Ledford and freshman Miley McClure lead the team with 14 points per game, while the team's two veteran starters, senior Skyler Mahoney and junior Bayleigh Winkler, combined to average 20 points and 17 rebounds and do most of the physical defensive work inside.

Butler beats you with speed, led by guards Brayla Harris (19 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals), Rania Curry (13 points, seven rebounds) and Karen Nimo (11 points, seven rebounds, three steals). Keeping them from getting offensive rebounds is a major key for the Lady Indians. Expect a game in the 40s.

› Class A-Division II: Christian Heritage (18-11) at Montgomery County (28-1)

The Lady Lions are one of the state's best stories, having gone winless two seasons ago. They already own a road playoff win after downing Lake Oconee Academy in Friday's Sweet 16, so nerves shouldn't be a problem.

The hosts, however, could be, though it's hard to gauge the level of competition in middle/east Georgia. What's known is that senior Marley Bell is the real deal as she enters the game with averages of 24 points, 16 rebounds and nearly five steals. Fellow senior Amire Banks chips in 16 points, nearly eight assists, four rebounds and four steals.

The Eagles get a good deal of their offense off turnovers, so guards Taylor Fisher, Brooklyn Stallion and London Wagner have to take care of the ball. If they can, sophomore forward Carly Bramlett and junior power forward Alli Grace Hembree can do damage inside.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com.

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