Dominant Dalton headed to GHSA Final Four; Murray rallies to also advance

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Murray County's Skyler Mahoney, left, and the Lady Indians rallied to defeat Butler Tuesday night to advance to the GHSA Class AA Final Four.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Murray County's Skyler Mahoney, left, and the Lady Indians rallied to defeat Butler Tuesday night to advance to the GHSA Class AA Final Four.

For the first 10 minutes of Dalton High School's GHSA Class AAAAA girls' quarterfinal game at Arabia Mountain Tuesday night, it was hard to tell which of the teams had a roster full of freshmen and which one had the senior-laden lineup.

For the remaining 22 minutes, however, there was no doubt.

The Lady Catamounts (21-9) overcame a turnover-filled start to roll past the young Lady Rams (26-3), 71-52, and will face Midtown in Friday's semifinal round at 5 p.m. at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.

Also Tuesday, Murray County rallied past Butler, 52-49, in Class AA and will play Mount Paran Christian Saturday at 5 at Georgia State and College University in Milledgeville. Christian Heritage's surprise run in Class A Division II ended with a 69-54 loss at Montgomery County.

Dalton, led by seasoned vets Grace Ridley, Emma Hefner and Kamara Washington, committed 11 turnovers in the game's first 10 minutes while also being tagged for six quick fouls, which sent starters BB Bates and Hefner to the bench. Still, Arabia Mountain— and its three freshmen starters — led just 22-19 after its star frosh, Shanya Heath, hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the second quarter.

From that moment, however, it was all Dalton, which ended the half with a 15-4 run to take a 34-26 lead into intermission.

And that was just the beginning of the end for the Lady Rams.

"We settled in and adjusted to the way the game was being called," Dalton coach Hannah Harris said. "We are playing really well at the best possible time. Our mantra the last few weeks is to find the will to win and get it done, contrasted with the reminder to be excited for the moment and enjoy it."

After Ridley and forward Jolie Wingfield combined to score 12 of Dalton's points in the run up to halftime, it was the well-rested Hefner who took over in the third quarter. The senior guard nailed three 3-pointers in an 18-0 run to start the third period that also featured five points from the slashing Washington and two points and two assists from Ridley, who was attracting extra defensive attention.

Leading by 32 entering the final eight minutes, the mercy rule was in affect the rest of the way as the Lady Cats relished the program's first trip to the Final Four in 13 years.

"Our team chemistry, heart and ability has made this group so much fun to coach," Harris, a former Dalton player, said, "and we are all hoping to extend our time together and this run by two more games."

Ridley and Washington shared team scoring honors with 16 apiece, with Hefner and Wingfield adding 14 each. Heath and fellow freshman Charmaine Owens led Arabia Mountain with 24 and 12 points, respectively.

In Class AA, Murray County (24-6), trailed by eight in the third quarter before rallying past Butler in Augusta to make its first Final Four trip since 1966. The Lady Indians offset a decided disadvantage in speed with a dominating rebounding effort and wore down the hosts over the final 12 minutes.

"We out-rebounded them a good bit, and we needed to because that's the fastest team I've ever seen," Murray coach Chris Tipton said. "We tweaked a few things on offense, and defensively we just stayed steady. We started to drive the lane and that got our inside game going. We had great balance tonight and it shows just how close this team is.

"My girls will not quit. They are battle-tested even though they are young and you just have to praise their heart and perseverance."

Bayleigh Winkler led the Lady Indians with 18 points, nine rebounds and added two blocks, with Callan Ledford adding 12 points, Skyler Mahoney eight points and eight rebounds and Miley McClure eight points and six boards.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Dalton's Grace Ridley

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