TUNNELL HILL — The Northwest Whitfield High School girls basketball team didn't have many close games this season. With an average margin of victory of 25.5 points in the Lady Bruins' 24 wins, games coming down to the wire were rare.
So when they were locked in a tight game game with Pickens High School on Friday with a Region 6-4A championship on the line, the Lady Bruins had to navigate their way through somewhat uncharted territory.
"We had a tough game Friday night," Northwest coach Greg Brown said. "It was a stressful game mentally and physically."
Down 34-33 with under a minute to play, senior Hallie Brooker took an inbounds pass from senior MaLane Kyer and laid it in for the go-ahead basket that helped seal a late win.
"I'm still getting a lot of congratulations and stuff, but yeah I'm starting to get back to normal," Brooker said. "It helped me realize that I'm capable of doing stuff like that and I hope it helps me be more confident in this next game."
The close region win not only brought home Northwest's second straight region title, it also proved to the team it could persevere when things don't go right.
"I think the confidence factor is gonna be there in the next close game because we haven't had a lot, but the ones we've had we won," Brown said. "They know that if it does come down to the wire, they've been there and found a way to get it done when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. No matter what the situation is, we've been through it."
As the Lady Bruins (24-4) prepare to host Central High School (15-11) on Friday at 6 p.m. to open the Class 4A state tournament, they feel they can win a close game.
By now, everything they do is pretty much second nature.
"We're just trying to keep things as normal as possible," Brown said. "Obviously we're excited about playing at home. We're just excited. This is what we've worked for all year long and this is the fun part."
It's hard to prepare for a team you don't regularly see. Central, located in Carrollton west of Atlanta near the Alabama line, is a ways from Tunnel Hill. Brown and the team drove to Central's region tournament consolation game on Saturday in LaGrange — about two and half hours from Tunnel Hill — to see what they are up against.
"They're a solid basketball team," Brown said. "They have a good mix of athleticism and size. We're gonna have to play well because when you get to this point, everybody's pretty good."
The Lady Bruins got a boost on Tuesday as forward Jada Griffin returned to practice with no limitations, according to Brown. Griffin rolled her ankle in the final minutes of the region championship.
"It should be a good crowd and that gets us going and focused," junior Tionna Baker said. "(Coach Brown) always says one game at a time and that's what we gotta do to get it done."