(Note: The Lady Tigers will play in a state playoff game on Tuesday, Feb. 21, after the DCN print deadline. Please check our website for updates.)
Before the Dawson County Lady Tigers basketball team began their season, head coach Will Anglin said that his team was not one that opponents would want to face late in the season.
He was right.
In arguably the toughest region in Class 3A, Dawson displayed three of their best performances all season at the Region 7-3A tournament — all against top-ranked teams in the state.
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The Lady Tigers defeated No. 6 Pickens 53-50 on Monday, Feb. 13, in the first round to clinch a state playoff spot before returning home for the tournament semifinals on Thursday.
A spirited performance against No. 2 Lumpkin fell short in a 58-45 defeat, but the Lady Tigers returned on Saturday, Feb. 18, to defeat No. 5 White County 49-44 to secure the region’s third seed heading into the state playoffs.
Those efforts earned the Lady Tigers a spot in the final GHSA regular season rankings, with the team finishing as No. 9 in Class 3A and knocking Pickens out of the top 10.
“It feels awesome,” Anglin said. “This is what we’ve been working toward all season. There were so many people who stepped up and made big shots.”
Well into the fourth quarter of the game against fourth-seeded Pickens, the fifth-seeded Lady Tigers found themselves down 41-31.
Earlier in the season, the two teams met twice, with the Dragonettes winning both times. But for this third — and consequential — matchup, the Lady Tigers found an extra gear late in the game.
Just when Dawson needed a spark, Abby Samples-Slaton sank a quartet of three-point shots in just a couple of minutes, bringing the Lady Tigers right back into the game. One shot after another, the team’s confidence grew.
As both teams traded baskets, both sets of well-traveled parents and supporters grew louder inside of Wesleyan’s Yancey Gym.
Up 49-48 with less than a minute remaining, Dawson had possession of the ball but needed to throw an inbound pass under intense pressure from Pickens.
After a few fouls on those passes, the Dragonettes finally forced a turnover and quickly converted a layup to lead 50-49 with around 20 seconds left.
Without even the slightest hesitation, Morgan Chester took the ensuing inbound pass and sprinted up the court, slicing through the Pickens defense.
In this win-or-go-home game, all players on the court knew their season was on the line.
But Chester, with hardly a blink, leapt triumphantly toward the basket and converted a layup with less than 10 seconds on the clock.
Immediately after that, Kindra Coker made an intelligent play by stealing the ball and tossing it over to Slaton, who drew a foul. Slaton would make her two free throws to seal a 53-50 win for the Lady Tigers and a trip to the Class 3A state playoffs.
Three days later, the Lady Tigers returned home to face the defending state champion, Lumpkin.
For over three quarters, the hosts not only put up a fight — they led at halftime and had the Ford Phillips crowd in a frenzy.
After leading 28-24 at the halfway point, Dawson struggled to score but continued to apply defensive pressure on Lumpkin — with the game still tied 37-37 at the end of three quarters.
But eventually, the Lady Indians showed their experience, grinding out a 58-45 win over Dawson.
The Lady Tigers then entered the third-place matchup with White County, which pitted two very different offensive styles against each other.
This seeding game had particular importance this season, as the loser would be tasked with facing the undefeated Region 8 champion Hebron Christian Academy in the state playoffs.
Very quickly, it was apparent that the Lady Tigers not only took the game as seriously as they needed to, but they also took the positives from their loss to Lumpkin.
Building a 17-8 lead after the first quarter, Dawson once again used the strength of Eva Bishop and Chester to establish a presence in the paint — with their many rebounds giving the team second and third scoring chances.
Those rebounds would prove to be crucial, as White County would not trail by more than those nine points.
During the game, Chester reached a career milestone, picking up rebound No. 500.
The Lady Warriors used their strong three-point shooting to keep up, trailing just 27-21 at halftime and 38-33 after the third quarter.
The game would only tighten from there, with the score at a 43-42 Dawson advantage with one minute remaining.
Just like the Pickens game, Samples-Slaton would make a timely contribution when the team was in need of one, sinking a three-point shot with only 21 seconds left in the game.
And on the ensuing inbound pass for White County, Coker emulated her steal against Pickens in nearly identical fashion, swiping away the ball and chucking it over to Chester, who drew a foul.
The Lady Tigers would convert a few free throws to seal the 49-44 victory, earning them a trip to Hart County for a first-round state playoff game on Tuesday, Feb. 21.