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Dawson County girls reach Elite Eight with an impressive win over Adairsville

Once considered a playoff longshot, the Tigers are making a surprise run in Class AAA
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DAWSONVILLE, GEORGIA - As recently as last week, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that believed the Dawson County girls basketball team would even make the state tournament.

Now, the Tigers are Elite-Eight bound.

In front of one of the largest home crowds to ever pack inside the Dawson County gym, the Tigers punched their ticket to the third round of the Georgia state tournament with a 21-point victory over Adairsville, 58-37.

Dawson County's Eva Bishop powers through the double team of Darby Adams (31) and Alivia Joslin (3).

Dawson County's Eva Bishop powers through the double team of Darby Adams (31) and Alivia Joslin (3).

While admitting there weren’t many on the outside that believed in his team, head coach Will Anglin was one of the few that knew his team could make this kind of run.

“I love when you said we weren’t supposed to make it, that’s everybody else’s opinion,” Anglin said. “I said it all year long, we were not going to be a team people wanted to face down the road and our kids believed that. Now to see it all come to pass, all the hard work, these kids have been committed. When everybody else said we had no chance, they were showing up every day and working.”

Sitting in easily the toughest region in AAA and one of the strongest statewide at any classification, Dawson was expected to be just outside of the state playoff picture. With only four state tournament slots available and four teams in the region consistently ranking in the Top 10 in the state throughout the regular season, the Tigers, who’d lost their last four games heading into the region tournament by a combined 61 points, were quickly ruled out by most.

However, that’s when their magical run began.

Dawson first upset Pickens County with a three-point win in the final minute to clinch a spot in the state tournament. After losing in the semifinals, the Tigers won a crucial third place game, claiming the No. 3 seed for Region 7, thus avoiding a first round matchup with the nearly unanimous favorite to win the state title for AAA, Hebron Christian Academy.

Instead, the Tigers drew Hart County, where Dawson once again pulled the “upset,” at least by seeding. With Adairsville pulling the upset over Sandy Creek as a No. 4 seed, this put the Tigers hosting a Sweet 16 game in front of their home crowd with a chance to make it to the Elite Eight, an almost unimaginable position last week.

Anglin said getting to play one last time in front of their home crowd meant a lot.

“It means everything. I’ve said it since I got this job, this is the best community in the state and probably the world,” he said. “They support basketball, they always have and so any time you give them some excitement, something to support, they’re going to show up. This community loves basketball and when you give them good basketball that’s team-oriented where you’re playing for the name on your jersey, they’re going to show up and support.”

And with its community behind them, Dawson continued its hot streak, taking control of the game in the second quarter and never letting go.

After a mostly deadlocked first quarter, the Tigers fell behind early in the second quarter before igniting the game with a 10-0 run to go up 21-14 in what turned out to be Dawson’s highest scoring quarter. The Tigers maintained a 28-22 lead at halftime before completely blowing the game open in the third quarter.

Anglin said it wasn’t really anything tactical that propelled his team on this run, but just his squad’s belief in playing for more than themselves.

“I think it’s the team aspect,” he said. “Tonight for instance, we had two kids come off the bench in [Jaci] Wilson and [Anna] Ayers and [Heather] Burt that just provided tremendous energy for us, so I think that’s what makes us tough to guard.

"It’s not [Abby] Slaton every night, it’s not [Kirklyn] Porter every night, it’s not [Morgan] Chester every night, it’s not [Eva] Bishop. We have [Emma Grace] McCarron, we have so many different kids. [Kindra] Coker made big shots, when it’s everybody, it’s really hard to guard. To believe in your role, you have to be bought into that because you don’t know when your moment is coming and I felt our kids have done a fantastic job.”

Dawson County coach Will Anglin and his team fed off of a capacity crowd at their home gym in the Bears impressive

Dawson County coach Will Anglin and his team fed off of a capacity crowd at their home gym in the Bears impressive

That teamwork was on full display as the Tigers outscored their opponents by 13 to start the second half while not allowing a single field goal all quarter. Anglin said the defensive lockdown, as it has all season, started with star senior Kirkland Porter.

“Their best player, [Analee Morris], she had 12 in the first quarter and I challenged [Porter], she’s been our defensive go-to all year long,” he said. “I challenged her to shut her down and she had three the rest of the game. That really took them out of what they’re able to do and we got the ball, got some momentum rolling and the rest is history.”
Ending the third with a 19-point lead, the Tigers weren’t challenged the rest of the way, continuing what turned out to be a 14-0 run that started back in the third quarter before finishing the game with a 21-point lead.

Coker and Slaton led the Tigers with 15 points each, with Bishop, Chester, Burt, Porter and Wilson all also joining in on the scoring.

Dawson has held both of its state tournament opponents under 40 points in the opening rounds. If the Tigers are to continue their miracle run beyond the Elite Eight, Anglin says it’ll be because of defense.

Dawson County's Morgan Chester (12) looks for an opening as she drives towards the lane.

Dawson County's Morgan Chester (12) looks for an opening as she drives towards the lane.

“We have to be solid defensively,” he said. “We’ve done a good job all year defensively and we have to continue that. Calvary Day is a good team and they have a really good player so we’re going to have to lock in on them, continue to play as a team and take care of the basketball. Our kids are wanting it more right now. If we will continue to play with the energy and effort that we have been going forward we’ll be fine.”