The late Pearl Worrell, the only girl whose jersey number hangs on Decatur High’s Wall of Honor, led the 1972 Lady Bulldogs to the state championship.
Worrell, or any of her teammates from that era, couldn’t have possibly guessed it would take 41 more years for her school to get another shot.
That officially happens tonight when the eighth-ranked Bulldogs play at fifth-ranked Dawson County, tip-off 6 p.m., in an Elite Eight showdown.
The years since Worrell and Company haven’t been kind to Decatur. It’s true the Lady Bulldogs have now had four consecutive winning seasons, the last three under Bill Roberts which features 20 or more victories each year. But preceding that came decades of losing.
As recently as 2006-07 the Decatur girls went 0-19, losing by 28 points per game.
“You know how us teenagers are when it comes to being interested in the past, or for that matter the future,” Decatur senior Jordan Dillard said Monday afternoon. “We pretty much live in in the present. It’s probably a blessing that none of us know what happened before we got here.”
In a sense 6-foot Dillard is this season’s Pearl Worrell, leading the team at 18.7 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 2.9 assists. Further, though hobbled by a slightly-sprained left ankle, she’s coming off what even she agrees is her best high-school game ever, scoring a career-high 34 points in Friday 57-50 victory over Sonoraville.
It figures that tonight’s opponent is familiar with Dillard’s entire resume.
“I definitely expect them to double team me at some point,” said Dillard, who’s still bothered by the ankle, though she doesn’t expect it to be factor tonight. “But if they do that than one or more of my teammates will be open.
“A lot of people think this is my team,” she added, “that this team depends on me, and all that. That’s the part about basketball that I hate, the individual part, where everybody focuses on individual achievement. Sure, everybody likes to shine. But this is a team game, and I genuinely believe everyone here is playing for the team and that’s why we’ve advanced so far.”
Decatur comes into tonight’s game at 23-7 while Dawson 25-5. Roberts and Dillard’s primary concern is clamping down on Dawson’s perimeter game. The Tigers take 16 three pointers per game (compared to Decatur’s 13) and hit 27.3 percent compared to Decatur’s 22 percent.
Leading scorer and point guard Carly Gilreath, averages 15.7 points and has made 40 of 141 three pointers for 28 percent. The team’s best three point shooter, however, is senior guard Kacie Bearden who’s made 33 of 96 (34 percent) though she averages only 3.9 points.
Totaled, Dawson has eight players who’ve taken more than 20 three point shots this season.
But Dillard also anticipates seeing a 1-2-1-1 full-court or “diamond” press almost the entire game. This is where 5-2 freshmen point guard Jayla Morrow enters the picture.
Morrow is a primary reason Decatur’s overcome the loss of Queen Alford, last year’s Region 6-AA Player of the Year. First, she’s a one-person press breaker, cutting through traps and other assorted pressure points like putty. Last Friday her quickness was so unnerving Sonoraville, known for pressing every minute of every game, abandoned its press five minutes in.
Second, Morrow relieves Dillard of most of the ball-handling responsibilities she shouldered last year.
“To be honest, bringing up the ball is not my thing,” Dillard said. “It takes a lot of energy and my first thought is always how to set up my teammates. But when Jayla takes the ball it allows me to roam. It allows me to look for openings, to find possibilities for both myself and my teammates.”
The biggest possibility of all is a shot at the Final Four. A victory tonight means Decatur plays the winner of No. 3 Washington County and No. 10 Southwest Macon in Savannah on Saturday, with the final scheduled one week later in Macon.
“People don’t understand how hungry I am,” Dillard said. “I’m so hungry I’ll do anything. It’s like my ankle. Tonight I’m gonna put ice it, then put on heat, then ice again. Then I’ll go to sleep with it propped up. This is no time to even think about pain. It’s time to think about a championship.”