TUNNEL HILL —
After seemingly being out of the Sub-region 7B-4A race, Northwest Whitfield’s girls basketball team is now running stride for stride with the competition.
Autumn Blackwell scored 10 straight points to help swing a five-point deficit into a seven-point lead across the end of the third quarter and early in the fourth as the Lady Bruins avenged an earlier loss to the Lady Raiders with a 46-39 win Friday night.
The victory gives Northwest two losses in the sub-region — same as Dalton — and puts those rivals at the top of the standings entering the final week of regular-season play. Southeast now has three league losses.
Northwest’s boys rolled to a 21-point lead at the end of the first half and were never threatened in a 70-40 win against the Raiders. The Bruins remain perfect in sub-region play, and coach Ryan Richards said the victory clinched the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the Region 7-4A tournament for Northwest.
The Lady Bruins (15-7, 6-2) saw their hopes of gaining the top spot in the sub-region fading when Southeast senior Tavi Parris hit a pair of free throws with 1:49 left in the third quarter, giving the Lady Raiders (14-8, 6-3) a 34-29 lead.
But that’s when Blackwell took over.
The senior small forward hit a 3-pointer to end the third, and she kept scoring in the fourth. With Southeast in a man-to-man defense, the Lady Bruins spread their offense, with Blackwell shadowing in the lane. Working the offense patiently, Northwest was able to find Blackwell in the paint, and she used her height against her defender.
Her play and a pair of free throws from Kaitlin Wade gave Northwest a 41-34 lead, and Southeast’s inability to score consistently in the fourth gave Northwest the win.
“I knew that we had to get up at that point, and I had the mismatch down low,” said Blackwell, who finished with 17 points to lead her team. “I knew that I had to make those shots when they got me the ball in the middle.”
Northwest coach Greg Brown said coming out of the break before the final period he thought Blackwell could take over the game.
“We felt like we had a pretty good mismatch there if we could get the ball to her in the post or at the free-throw line,” Brown said. “Give her credit for converting when she got the ball, and give the rest of the team credit for being patient and getting her the ball. That was the key for us in the second half.”
In the first half, the Lady Bruins seemingly had all of the momentum and it didn’t look as if they would need any fourth-quarter heroics after sprinting out to a 12-3 edge and leading 15-6 at the end of the first quarter.
However, Southeast senior Megan Collins scored 10 of her game-high 18 points in the second quarter, and Northwest couldn’t find any offensive rhythm, going scoreless over the final 4:18 of the first half and scoring just four points in the period. Southeast led 21-19 at halftime.
But when Blackwell went on her own run in the fourth quarter, the Lady Raiders went cold. Collins’ free throws with 2:37 remaining were the first points of the fourth for Southeast, and Blackwell answered that with a floater across the lane for a 43-36 lead that all but wrapped up the win.
“Eighteen points may sound like a lot, but (Collins) scored 32 against us the first time,” Brown said. “We made a conscious decision to guard her, but we didn’t do anything different. We were just more aware of where she was.”
Southeast will close out the regular season Tuesday at Dalton, while Northwest will play at home Tuesday against Ridgeland and Thursday against Heritage-Catoosa in a contest postponed due to the weather last week.
• Northwest boys 70, Southeast 40: Richards said even if the Bruins were to lose to both Ridgeland and Heritage this week, Northwest would be tied with Heritage atop the standings, and the Bruins would hold the tiebreaker.
“This is kind of new territory for us being at the top at the end of the regular season, but it is great for the kids and the program,” Richards said. “We still have to stay focused and get ready for the region tournament, but we like having the bye. We still have to win a game to get into state, so nothing is guaranteed.”
Against the Raiders, Northwest’s press plus the hot shooting of Tanner Quarles equaled an easy win.
Quarles finished with a game-high 22 points, and O’Shea Hill added 12 for the Bruins (18-3, 8-0).
Southeast (3-20, 2-7) received almost half of its points from Chaz Payne, who finished with 18.