The Dawson County Tigers did their best in creating some separation from the logjam of teams behind them in Region 7-AAA on Jan. 14, earning a 69-66 overtime win over West Hall in Oakwood.
The Tigers also picked up another region win at Fannin County on Jan. 17 in Blue Ridge, 41-32.
Dawson County coach Thad Burgess couldn't emphasize the importance of the win against West Hall and Fannin County for the Tigers.
"That was one of our biggest wins, against West Hall, of the year," Burgess said. "On a Tuesday, on the road, you know West Hall is very good. Coach (Warren) Sellers has them ready to play.
"We didn't play real good offensively against Fannin," Burgess said. "Our defense remained a key, allowing only five first half points. A region win is always good, over the years, this was a similar Fannin game for us on the road, we have found a way to win."
Scoring for Dawson against Fannin were: Levi Whitmire with 11 points and Cameron Millholland and Lucas Pain added nine points each.
Another reason for the big smile on Burgess' face was the return of Jonathan Sanderson to the lineup. Sanderson's leadership has been missed as evidenced by the pregame warm-ups worn by his teammates with the No. 2 on the back of the tops. The number is Sanderson's jersey number.
Sanderson has been out with a knee injury since the beginning of the season.
"I was so excited to get Jonathan back in the lineup. He was rusty, but I am so happy for him," Burgess said.
The Tigers have improved to 15-4 overall, but more importantly, 6-2 in region play. They now have at least a two game lead over the next team in the region, putting them in position to secure the No. 2 seed for next month's region tournament.
With five games remaining, the Tigers now find themselves in a good position, with a chance to redeem themselves Jan. 21 at White County and Jan. 31 at home with Buford.
"We're all battling for second place, third and fourth place," Burgess said. "Buford looks like they're going to kind of run away with it. But you want to, kind of, try and at least be in that spot, a two, three, or four, and have a chance."
"We're basically a whole new team. I've got guys who have never been in back-to-back overtime games. I'm playing about five players and it completely drains you, but I loved the energy."
Dawson County won an overtime game against North Hall in their last Region 7-AAA game Jan. 10 at home.
Pain led the Tigers in scoring with 30 points against West Hall.
"Coach was saying it was a really big tiebreaker in region play," Pain said. "We've already knocked off East Hall and North Hall and we've only lost to White County and Buford. And East Hall beat White County which kind of helped us out, too."
After watching a 10 point third-quarter lead be erased, the Tigers found themselves trailing by two points in overtime after West Hall's Hunter Atkinson drained a jumper in the paint to make the score 62-60 with 2:47 remaining.
But Dawson County responded with a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Pain, followed by a field goal from Millholland to take a 65-62 lead.
After a West Hall (7-8; 2-4) free throw made the score 65-63, West Hall was forced to foul Dawson County, putting the Tigers into the bonus. At the free throw line, the Tigers extended their lead, going four of five from the line to make the score 69-63.
"I thought tonight we didn't play our best, but I thought we just battled and fought," Burgess said. "I loved the energy and how we kept on playing. We made some free throws when we needed to."
West Hall cut the score to 69-66 with a 3-pointer from Ty Statham. Then, following a Dawson County turnover on an inbounds play, the Spartans' last chance 3-pointer from Luke Castillo clanked off the rim.
"When we threw out of bounds, I was a little scared because they were shooting it real well all game," Pain said. "But after that shot back-rimmed it, I was pretty relieved."
Along with his 30 points, Pain also finished with a game-high 12 rebounds for Dawson County. Whitmire finished with 14 points, while Millholland contributed with nine for the Tigers.
A pair of free throws by Pain knotted the game even at 58-58, sending the game into overtime.
Atkinson led West Hall in scoring with 23 points.
Up next for Dawson County is a trip to East Hall on Friday night.
Earlier this season the Tigers defeated Coach Joe Dix's team 60-50.
On Jan. 28 the Tigers will play host to Banks County. Dawson County defeated the Leopards 66-52 in early December.
DCN regional staff Ed Hooper contributed to this story.