SAVANNAH - Dawson County senior Carly Gilreath had an idea it might be a good night.
"I was telling my team before the game that I didn't miss a shot during warmups," she said, "and that they should knock on wood that it continues."
Gilreath made sure it continued, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to open the scoring during the state semifinal game Saturday at Armstrong Atlantic State University, and giving the Lady Tigers a lead they would never relinquish on the way to a 66-50 win over Southwest Macon and a berth in the Class AAA state finals.
No. 2 seed Dawson County (27-5) is back in the championship game for the first time since 1991, and will face St. Pius X at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Sophomore forward Sheyenne Seabolt led the Lady Tigers with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Gilreath added 24, including five of the team's nine 3-pointers, quite possibly none more important than those first two to give Dawson County the early 6-0 lead.
"Those just gave us momentum," Gilreath said.
Dawson County coach Steve Sweat, who led the team to three straight final fours, and the 1991 state finals, in his first stint with the team, said the team had focused on avoiding the same slow start they had in their quarterfinal game, one in which they didn't lead until late in the fourth.
"That's been one great thing about this team, they focus on mistakes from their last game and work to fix them," Sweat said. "I told them we can't let ourselves go down 10-0."
Instead, Dawson County led 6-0, 8-2 and from start to finish, finally pulling away in a third quarter in which the team outscored its opponent 19-11 to break away from a one-point halftime lead.
The Lady Tigers opened the game with the hot shooting hand, as Gilreath sank back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Lady Tigers a quick 6-0 lead.
Southwest-Macon scored eight of the next 10 to even the game at 8-8, but gilreath responded with a layup to put Dawson County back ahead 10-8, a lead the team would keep the rest of the half.
The Lady Tigers went into the first break ahead 19-12 after a pair of free throws by Karlie Bearden. They went ahead 30-22 midway through the second on a trey by Kacie Bearden, but Southwest Macon scored the final seven points of the half to get within one point at 30-29 at halftime.
Dawson County stole the momentum right back to start the third. Seabolt started an 8-0 run with a layup, followed by treys by Kacie Bearden and Hannah Porter to put the Lady Tigers ahead 38-29 less than two minutes into the quarter.
Southwest Macon (22-6) couldn't get closer than seven throughout the rest of the third.
Dawson County ran away with it in the fourth, scoring 10 of the first 13 points, including a pair of layups by Seabolt and a pair of 3-pointers by Gilreath, her second of the quarter and final of the game, to go ahead 59-43.
"I thought, if we could just keep the pressure on, then we'd be OK," Sweat said. "The fourth quarter is when team's usually slow down, and I think that's what happened to (the Lady Patriots) tonight."
By the end of the game, Sweat was able to cycle in his backups, finishing the program's first state semifinals win in more than 20 years in surprisingly easy fashion.
The inside-outside combination of Gilreath on the perimeter and Seabolt in the paint made Dawson County tough to beat, as the duo combined for 51 of the team's 66 points.
"What a great combination," Sweat said. "And we're blessed that it's inside-outside. It's hard to defend both."
Senior Kacie Bearden added six points on two treys for Dawson County.
Shakenya Peters led Southwest Macon with 14 points and Emily Pennimon added 12 for the Region 2-AAA champs.