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Matt Hamilton/The Daily Citizen THe Lady Cats celebrate at the end of the game Saturday.

Dalton Daily Citizen

Crisp County’s girls basketball team spent much of the season searching for its path. After turning a corner late in the season, the Lady Cougars have pretty much been on a straight line to Macon and the Class 3A semifinals.

Dalton faces Crisp County at 4 p.m. today at the Macon Centreplex for a spot in Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game. The winner of the early semifinal will play the winner of today’s 7 p.m. semifinal between Columbia (25-6) and Washington County (30-0).

The Lady Catamounts start three seniors and have yet to lose through 31 games this season. Crisp County, which has three underclassmen among its top six contributors, struggled to find success for much of the season.

The Lady Cougars (15-14) took two consecutive losses to Region 1-3A champion Westover in the span of three days that dropped their record to 6-13. Since Feb. 4, Crisp has lost just once — again to Westover, 63-37, in the region tournament semifinal.

Crisp County — which won the region consolation game, 57-55 against Americus-Sumter, to earn a No. 3 seed for state — found a way to strike back in the Class 3A tournament. In the Class 3A quarterfinals, the fourth time this season the Lady Cougars faced Westover, Crisp County took its first lead late in the fourth quarter and held on for a 37-35 win to earn a spot in today’s game.

While she is pleased with her team’s run, the specific reasons for the late-season turnaround escape Lady Cougars coach Molly Speir.

“That’s been the question everybody has been asking me,” Speir said. “Quite honestly, I wish I knew what it was. But it happened at the right time. All season long we’ve been telling our girls how much potential we have.

“It’s just a matter of everything clicking at the right time.”

Dalton last reached the semifinals in 2002 in the Class 4A tournament. This is the deepest postseason run for Crisp County’s girls in school history.

The Lady Catamounts know their opponents’ overall record this season is not a good indicator of how the team enters today’s matchup, though, because the Lady Cougars have won nine of their past 10 games.

“Their record doesn’t mean anything,” Dalton senior point guard Amanda Rector said. “They are obviously a good team and have beaten some good teams to get here. We just want to go and play our game. If we just keep playing good defense and run our sets offensively and take advantage of what they give us, then we will see how it goes.”

Dalton’s offensive attack starts with Rector, who averages 11 points and 4.6 assists per game. While senior April Besley has provides 9.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and sophomore Maddie Howell is the best outside shooter — hitting 38 percent of her 3-point shots for 10.9 points per contest — 6-foot-5-inch senior center Quaneisha McCurty is the force in the lane with 16.5 points and 10.2 boards per game.

Speir said Crisp’s rough start prepared the team for its chance against Dalton.

“We know Dalton hasn’t lost a game and has a good, solid team,” Speir told the Cordele Dispatch earlier this week. “But we’re counting on the tough schedule we’ve played and how far we’ve come these last few games to be both an equalizer and the inspiration that fuels us to keep going.”

Crisp County didn’t survive its first-round state matchup by much, beating Grovetown 67-65, then topped Rutland 67-46 to set up the quarterfinals showdown with Westover.

Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said the Lady Cougars fit into their place in the bracket much better than indicated by their record for the regular season, during which they played several opponents from higher classifications.

“A lot of people are talking about Crisp County being a Cinderella team with its 15-14 record, but anybody who knows a lot about basketball can check and see that a lot of their losses have been only by a few points,” McKinney told the Cordele Dispatch.

Similar to the Lady Cats, Crisp’s offense also runs through a senior point guard. Mariah Davis averages 10 points, seven assists and five steals per game.

Also similar to Dalton, the Lady Cougars have a big presence in the lane. Nasheema Oliver (6-3), a freshman, provides the force in the lane for Crisp County with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

McKinney said Dalton will approach the game with the same formula it has in its first 31 games.

“We’ve basically just looked at what they run offensively and how they play and then adjust our defense accordingly,” McKinney said. “We don’t change a whole lot what we are doing offensively, but we are looking at ways to take away what they like to do best when they have the ball.”

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