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ELITE 8 BOUND: Lady Tigers basketball punches ticket to state quarterfinals after home playoff victory
The Lady Tigers basketball team takes a group photo after punching their ticket to the Class 3A state quarterfinals, following a 58-37 Sweet 16 win over Adairsville on Friday, Feb. 24. (Photo courtesy of North Georgia SportsLink)

Head coach Will Anglin and the Dawson County varsity girls basketball team have had a season full of challenges, accomplishments and memorable moments.

For the tenth time in program history, the Lady Tigers earned a trip to the state playoff quarterfinals, following a 58-37 Sweet 16 home playoff win against Adairsville on Friday, Feb. 24.

The team’s path to reach this milestone has been daunting at times — with Dawson having to play in a region with four other teams frequently ranked in the Class 3A’s top 10.

Finishing the regular season in fifth place in Region 7-3A, the Lady Tigers defeated fourth-place Pickens in the region tournament to earn a state playoff spot. 

After falling to Lumpkin in the region semifinals, Dawson beat White County to earn third place. From there, the Lady Tigers continued their path to postseason success. 

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Dawson County found themselves locked in a tight battle late into the first round of Class 3A state playoff action at Hart County on Tuesday, Feb. 21. 

With the visiting contingent of parents and fans at full roar, the Lady Tigers used their recent experiences in late-game situations to stay focused.

Just when the game found a point of attrition well into the fourth quarter, senior Emma Grace McCarron and junior Abby Samples-Slaton hit the shots that would help extend the season for a Dawson team peaking at the right time. 

While the previous week’s region tournament had seen some of the best showings from Dawson all season, the Region 7 third-place Lady Tigers did what they needed to defeat the Region 8 runner-up, beating the Lady Bulldogs 41-34 in a scrappy, physical battle — and punching a ticket to the Sweet 16.

“This group wants to keep playing. They’re gritty and they compete like crazy,” head coach Will Anglin said. “I don’t think we were at our best tonight…but at this point in the season it’s survive and advance.”

Later that night, Region 5 champion Sandy Creek was upset by Region 6 fourth-place team Adairsville, meaning that Dawson were given the rare opportunity to host a playoff game as a third-place team in their region. 

That chance to play in front of a packed and raucous Ford Phillips crowd was not taken for granted, as the Lady Tigers used a second-half defensive lockdown to run away with the win over Adairsville. 

In a game that epitomized the collective nature of the team’s success during the season, each player placed their own unique mark on the game.

For senior Kirklyn Porter — playing her final game at the Ford — that meant becoming the defensive answer to Adairsville’s early offensive success.

The visitors led 13-11 after the first quarter — all but one of those pints scored by Analee Morris. Once Porter was used to shut down Morris, she was held scoreless until the fourth quarter.

After opening the second quarter on a 10-1 run, Dawson’s lead was kept from growing anymore before halftime, with the Lady Tigers leading 28-22 at the interval.

Dawson’s defensive dominance rose to its apex in the third quarter, with the hosts outscoring Adairsville 15-2 to take a 43-24 lead heading into the final frame.

After sustaining their lead, Dawson would eventually win 58-37. Kindra Coker and Samples-Slaton each had 15 points, while the team out-rebounded Adairsville 41-24.

“These are the best kids in the world and I’m just honored to be their coach,” Anglin said. “They knew it was the last game at the Ford this year and they were ready to play. If you know anything about our fans, Dawson County really shows up and supports [us].”

Scoring proved to be at a premium in Hartwell, with both defenses causing turnovers throughout the game and giving little space to the opposing offense. 

Once again, a huge factor contributing to Dawson’s success was their ability to create multiple scoring chances, with the team out-rebounding Hart 35-22.

This time around, the team’s scoring hero was McCarron, who came off the bench to score a trio of crucial three-point shots during a game that saw the scoring margin never get wider than four points until the final minute.

McCarron hit one of those shots to close out the third quarter, putting the Lady Tigers up 29-26 at that interval.

She hit another long-distance shot during the fourth quarter before scoring on a leaping long two-pointer to put the team up 34-33 with just under three minutes remaining.

After Hart made one of two free throws, the ball traveled up and down the court with the game at a deadlock.

For over a minute, neither team could find a go-ahead basket until the 1:27 mark, when Samples-Slaton once again took the moment into her hands.

Much like her flurry of shots against Pickens and her late shot against White County to put Dawson up by two possessions, Samples-Slaton was none too shy of the situation. 

With the shot clock winding down into the single digits, she took a quick pass and found just enough space to get a decent look — unloading a shot that seemed suspended in the air for ages.

After the ball sailed cleanly through the basket to give the Lady Tigers a 37-34 lead, the team focused on preventing a response and quickly regained possession. 

Sophomore Eva Bishop would score next, taking an inbound pass and muscling past multiple defenders to put Dawson up by five points.

A pair of free throws later, the Lady Tigers had officially advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in four years.

Dawson County will travel down to Savannah to play Calvary Day School on Tuesday, Feb. 28, for the state quarterfinal matchup. 

(Special thanks to North Georgia SportsLink for providing information from the game between Dawson and Adairsville)