The past two times Dalton High School’s girls basketball team had faced Gilmer on the court, the results weren’t worth celebrating.
In the final game of the season last year, the top-seeded Lady Catamounts were denied a spot in the state tournament as Gilmer pulled off an upset in the region tournament. This season, the Lady Bobcats beat Dalton by 11 points in North Murray’s Mistletoe Madness tournament.
But Tuesday night in the Region 7-4A tournament, the Lady Cats earned a little payback at home.
Senior guard Maddie Howell scored 18 points and point guard Brooke Thomas added 14 as Dalton clinched a spot in the Class 4A state tournament with a 53-46 quarterfinals victory over Gilmer. The victory was a celebration in a number of ways for Dalton (20-6), which advanced to the region semifinals and will play at 4 p.m. Friday against the winner of today’s game between River Ridge and Heritage-Catoosa.
“We owed them a little something,” Howell said after the win. “I think we really came together as a team as well as we ever had this season tonight.”
The win was also the 250th victory at Dalton High — and 500th overall — for coach Jeff McKinney.
“We didn’t get many points off of turnovers, but we were very patient tonight running our offense,” McKinney said.
Patience was a big factor as the Lady Bobcats (13-12) keyed on Howell early. Howell scored just three points in the first half — a 3-pointer in the final minute before halftime — and yet the Lady Cats held a 27-19 lead. Dalton did that by running its motion offense over and over when Gilmer was in a man-to-man defense or switching the ball back and forth in their overload set against Gilmer’s zone.
“I was so glad the rest of the team stepped up and scored,” Howell said. “We were patient on our end of the court, and we don’t mind running our offense over and over. Our goal is to make the other team break down on defense, and we will get an easy basket.”
Fellow seniors Brooke Thomas and Taylor Behr benefited the most in the first half as the duo combined for 18 of the team’s first 20 points.
“They put us out last year, and I was a little nervous coming into this game,” said Behr, who finished with nine points. “When they beat us at North Murray at Christmas, I think that was a big wake-up call for all of us. It felt good to get back to state by beating them this year.”
After the first half, Gilmer shifted its focus away from Howell, and she made the Lady Bobcats pay. She scored 10 of Dalton’s 12 third-quarter points, and the Lady Cats eventually stretched that second-half lead out to 17 points on a Howell 3-pointer just shy of the halfway mark in the fourth quarter.
Gilmer was led by post Brittany Lowman’s 14 points.