After applying a lackluster finish to the first half, Decatur’s 10th-ranked girls shined brightest in Tuesday’s second half, exploding to a 54-30 victory over Fannin County in the first round of the state playoffs at the Decatur High Arena.
The Lady Bulldogs were led by senior point forward Jordan Dillard, who turned in a solid 23 points and eight rebounds, though she made only 8 of 23 shots from the field.
Perhaps the most encouraging story line for Decatur, at both ends, was the frenetic play of its freshmen duo, point guard Jayla Morrow (who had 13 points) and forward Kayla Thomas (11 points and nine rebounds).
Decatur advances to the second round, travelling to Calhoun to play Sonoraville Friday. The state’s fifth-ranked team at 28-1, Sonoraville handily dispatched Hart County 61-41 Tuesday night.
For the Decatur girls this is starting to become an historic season. This is the third straight year, and the fourth in the last five seasons, the Lady Bulldogs have made it to the state playoffs. But Tuesday was the first time in any of those years they’ve made it past the first round.
Decatur’s now poised to make a deep state-tournament run, something it hasn’t done since winning the state championship in 1972.
On Tuesday, however, the beginning of that run was virtually performed in private. At tipoff there were roughly 150 spectators in the 2,500-seat arena, and more than half of those had made the two-hour drive from Blue Ridge. Those numbers swelled to about 300 by the end of the game, probably the last at home for Decatur this season.
The Lady Bulldogs opened with what may have been some tournament jitters, managing only seven points in the game’s first six minutes, and missing several routine shots. When Fannin’s Molly Chandler hit a jumper from the free throw line with 30 seconds left Decatur led only 25-19, the eventual halftime score.
Fannin’s Logan O’Neal opened the second half with a three, promptly cutting matters to 25-22.
But then the defense locked in. Decatur coach Bill Roberts has often played zone for entire games this season, but on Tuesday he went man to man for about three-quarters of the game. He occasionally used a 2-2-1 halfcourt zone and two different full-court presses, and in the end Fannin couldn’t figure any of them out,making only 9 of 48 from the floor for 19 percent and only 1 of 14 three-pointers.
Decatur held Fannin to only eight points in the game’s last 15 minutes.
Roberts credited 6-3 junior Kris Munson with shutting down Chandler, who had 12 points in the game, mostly on short or mid-range jumpers, but none in the second half. Fannin’s leading scorer Hope Cochran was held to nine points.
Fannin County kept the game as close as it did, for as long as it did, by making 11 of 14 free throws.
Decatur made 19 of 60 from the floor for 32 percent including two three-pointers, one from Thomas with a minute left in the third, and another from Kori Anderson to open the fourth, a virtual dagger for Fannin, stretching the lead to 44-26.
Fannin County finishes its season at 10-18 while Decatur improves to 22-7. The victory was the 241st career win for Roberts, now in his 12th year as a head coach, the last three at Decatur.