ROME — Calhoun first-year head coach Kayla Ralston was pleased with the way her team started the game on Monday night. She was even more excited about the way the Lady Jackets finished it.
After seeing an early double-digit lead dissolve into a nine-point deficit, Calhoun rallied for a 51-43 victory over Pepperell in the opening round of the Rome News-Tribune Christmas Tournament at Berry College.
The Lady Jackets closed the game on a frantic 20-3 run that was fueled by a smothering full-court press. Calhoun trailed 40-31 with 7:12 remaining in the fourth quarter before putting together the late surge.
“We will jump into our press when we absolutely have to,” said first-year head coach Kayla Ralston about the Lady Jackets, who held Pepperell scoreless over the final 4:53 of the game. “What’s been working best for us is our 1-2-2 trap. When we get after it, and go all out like I know we can, that’s what works for us. Tonight, our press effected (Pepperell) and gave us some energy.”
Calhoun’s Railey Greeson scored all of her team-high 10 points in the fourth quarter, including three pivotal 3-pointers for the Lady Jackets.
Erin Davis and Anna George finished with nine points each, and Lyndi Rae Davis had seven.
The Calhoun victory — which featured an 11-0 run to start the game, and another 11-0 spurt to end it — came in Ralston’s head coaching debut in the Christmas Tournament.
“I was absolutely glad to get this first one of my career (in the Tournament),” Ralston said. “I’ve tried to tell the team about the Gold Ball, but I don’t think they quite understand what it’s all about. I think they got a little taste of it tonight, and I think they started to understand that this tournament is a big deal over here in Rome. We’re glad to be a part of it.”
Ralston’s team certainly got a feel for the intensity of the tournament in Monday’s game, as the Lady Jackets had to withstand a gutsy effort from a Pepperell team that knocked down eight 3-pointers in the game. Grace Hufford finished with 14 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead the Lady Dragons.
After opening the game with the 11-0 run, the Lady Jackets held a 17-5 lead late in the first quarter. Calhoun stayed in control for most of the second quarter, owning a 23-11 lead with 1:02 to play before halftime.
Pepperell, however, flipped the game around by putting together a 29-8 run over next the 10 minutes — which included outscoring Calhoun 17-7 in the third quarter — to build a 40-31 lead after a 3-pointer by Hufford near the 6:00 mark of the fourth quarter.
But Calhoun quickly closed the gap by reeling off a 9-1 run, which started and ended with 3-pointers by Greeson, to pull within 41-40 with 5:07 to go.
Pepperell briefly pushed the lead back to 43-40 after a basket by Maycy Owens with 4:53 remaining, but Calhoun scored the final 11 points of the game. Greeson’s third 3-pointer of the quarter gave the Lady Jackets a 46-43 lead with 3:15 to go, and Calhoun stayed in front from there. Lyndi Rae Davis essentially sealed the win when she hit two free throws with 1:03 remaining to give Calhoun an eight-point edge. Overall, Calhoun outscored Peppered 21-9 in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got a young crew,” said Ralston. “And I’m proud of them tonight.”
Both teams struggled at the foul line, combining to go 19-of-45. Calhoun finished just 15-of-30, including 6-of-14 in the fourth quarter. Peppered was 5-of-15 on the night.
The Lady Jackets advance to take on the winner of Rome and Armuchee on Thursday in the tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. at Georgia Highlands.