Playing the next day after a rivalry loss was exactly what Dalton boys basketball team needed.
Alex Bautista said someone had to be the victim Saturday, and Murray County was forced to play the role.
The Catamounts never trailed after midway through the first quarter on their way to a 78-54 home victory against the rival Indians. In the earlier girl’s game, Dalton won in similar fashion, 77-55.
This was a rematch from last month’s meeting in Chatsworth. Murray County’s boys won 58-52 in Dalton’s season opener, and the Lady Cats suffered a rare loss to the Lady Indians as well. It was also a gratifying performance for the Dalton boys after losing 63-57 in a big Sub-region 7B-4A showdown with rival Northwest on Friday night in Tunnel Hill. The Cats wanted to hit the floor as soon as possible.
“We knew that we had to come up and someone had to pay,” said Bautista, who had a game-high 22 points after fouling out against the Bruins. “Fortunately, it was Murray County.”
In the loss, the Cats (13-4) shot just 2-for-10 from 3-point range and 8 of 17 from the free-throw line.
Against the Indians (9-8), it was much better. Dalton finished 8 for 18 from long range and 8 for 12 from the free-throw line.
“That’s why I like basketball better than football,” Cats coach Mike Duffie said. “If I had to stew on that for a week, it’d eat you alive. These guys needed to be back (Saturday) on the floor, and win. If we came in here and lost, it could’ve been psyche. But it was good for us to come back out here and get a win.
“Now we have seven more games (all in sub-region),” he said. “Seven-game winning streak — that’s our goal.”
Trailing 5-4 just a couple minutes into the game, the Cats reeled off a 14-2 quarter-closing run capped by Braxton Thomas’ 3-pointer at the buzzer. After Dalton held a 35-17 halftime lead, Thomas did the same at the third quarter’s close to give his side a 61-34 advantage, one built off 30 Murray County turnovers and 17 team steals for Dalton.
“I felt like in the first quarter we didn’t handle their pressure well at all,” Indians coach Greg Linder said. “First time we played them, we did a good job — didn’t have many turnovers. We nearly doubled our amount of turnovers in the first half. That was a big key. ... When you play a rival game, you have to come to play.”
Demond Rucker added 18 points and seven rebounds for Dalton, while Thomas finished with 15 points off the bench.
For Murray County, Brady Todd led the team with 14 points, while Martin Contreras sank 10 of 12 free throws and scored 12 points.
• Dalton girls 77, Murray County 55: Ahead 20-14 at the opening quarter’s close, the Lady Cats (14-4) allowed the Lady Indians (6-11) within a point.
Then Dalton started to click.
The Lady Cats were sparked by Brooke Thomas’ offensive rebounds and layup and a steal and Taylor Behr layup within seconds. Dalton scored 14 straight points and ended the first half ahead 39-25.
“(Our players) realized Murray County is capable of beating good ball teams,” Lady Cats coach Jeff McKinney said. “Our players knew we had to play, our seniors stepped up and scored and we were doing a good job penetrating and getting three-on-two looks and two-on-one looks.”
Both teams played and won Friday — Dalton 53-34 against Northwest and Murray County 57-46 versus Chattooga — and were coming off less than 24 hours rest.
“I told them, ‘We can’t use the excuse of having to play last night in a hard game,’” McKinney said. “Murray County won a four-quarter game last night, too. It wasn’t an excuse we were going to use.”
The Lady Cats led 55-38 heading into the fourth quarter, and McKinney put in all subs, only to revert back to the starters minutes later. Murray County scored the period’s first six points and closed the gap to 57-48 on two Caitlyn Sims free throws. Then Dalton went on a 12-1 run to solidify a win.
“It’s a game of runs,” Murray County coach Michael Hill said. “We need to hang in there better. We gave them too long of a run in the second quarter and that’s when we started making those self-inflicting turnovers.”
Thomas scored 19 points while Behr added 17. Maddie Howell chipped in 12. Dalton, which averages 11.4 team assists per game, had 18 against Murray County. The Lady Indians’ Holly Stanfield had 18 points, nine off 3-pointers, and McKenzie Carroll added 17 points.