With postseason play right around the corner, both Calhoun basketball teams continued playing some of their best basketball of the season when Murray County rolled into town on Friday during what could prove to be a crucial stretch of the schedule.
It took a little while for the offense of the Lady Jackets (10-9) to come to life against the Lady Indians (10-11) in the evening’s first contest, but the team was able to gain plenty of separation on the scoreboard and claim a 54-39 victory due to robust performances from the trio of Anna George, Erin Davis and Ashlyn Brzozoski.
Made baskets were hard to come by in the first quarter as both teams leaned on physical, full-court pressure to force turnovers and prevent the opposing offense to establish any sort of rhythm or tempo. The first eight minutes concluded with an 11-9 advantage for Murray County.
“We definitely came out a little flat and that resulted in a slow start for us,” Lady Jackets head coach Kayla Ralston said. “I think our press bothered them in the first half, but we have to do a better job of turning that into scoring in the early part of games.”
The second-quarter action remained mostly lethargic with neither team able to piece together a large enough scoring run to pull away. The Lady Indians maintained a three-point edge throughout the majority of the period, but Calhoun managed to go on a quick 4-0 run right before the break to gain a small 20-19 edge.
It was in the third quarter where the game was ultimately decided, as the length and athleticism of George, who finished with a double-double consisting of 18 points and 17 rebounds, around the rim and crosscourt quickness of Davis, who transformed eight steals into 17 points, proved to be two obvious mismatches that Murray County couldn’t counter. Brzozoski was also a steady presence for Calhoun all game at the guard spot, netting 12 points and forcing seven steals.
“The second half I felt we were able to turn up the pressure a little more and we were able to feed off of that,” Ralston said. “Anna was great in the third quarter when she scored 15 of her 18 points, and the speed of Erin and Ashlyn was a huge factor. Their quickness really took over the game.”
The Lady Jackets rapidly put together a 20-4 offensive stretch to open the quarter, and went into the final eight minutes of play with a sturdy 45-28 lead. The Lady Indians refused to go down easy and made a small push in the fourth quarter, but the scoring margin had grown too wide to overcome as Calhoun was able to lock in the win.
“I think this team is really starting to grow up a lot, and it is really easy to see how much this team has improved over the course of the season,” Ralston said. “I think only being up a single point at the half and then coming out and going on such a big run shows this team’s maturity.”
It was a much different start that yielded a similar decisive result for the Jackets, with Calhoun (7-12) coasting to a commanding 59-34 win over the Indians in a contest where the final result was apparent in the early going.
The Jackets burst out of the gates in this one, utilizing rapid ball movement and stingy defense to cobble together an opening 8-2 run and closing 9-0 run in the first quarter to nearly triple Murray County’s (5-17) offensive output and lead 21-9 as the first buzzer sounded.
Bralin Barton was a dominant factor in that initial offensive explosion, scoring nine of his 16 points in the first quarter while operating as one the team’s most consistent threats from deep and the painted area.
“We had the hot hand early, and our defense was able to take over from there,” Jackets head coach Vince Layson said. “Bralin got us off to a hot start, and I think everyone was able to feed off of that energy. That worked out well for us.”
The team was also sparked by Davis Allen, who compiled 15 points and was as dangerous around the 3-point arc as he was near the rim. Calhoun’s knockdown shooting carried over into the following period, where the Jackets’ advantage ballooned to 17 points as the teams headed into the locker room at the break.
“Davis has been very steady for us night in and night out,” Layson said. “He is our go-to guy.”
Even after halftime adjustments, the Indians failed to keep pace with the Jackets. Calhoun assembled a 12-6 scoring stretch to expand its lead to an extremely comfortable 49-23 heading into the final eight minutes of play. Gage Maffetone presented a matchup problem for Murray County throughout the third when he scored six of his 16 total points.
“Gage has been working really hard at his craft, and it really paid off tonight,” Layson said. “He’s in here every time that he can be, and I am very proud of him.”
With the win all but guaranteed heading into the fourth quarter, Calhoun was able to provide its starters with a bit of rest and its reserves with a few extra reps to close out the contest in order to prepare more depth when tournament play rolls around.
“We were able to get the whole team in tonight,” Layson said. “I think the guys that came in towards the end of the game picked up the defensive intensity like the first group did, so I was very pleased.”
The Jackets and Lady Jackets are at Haralson County on Saturday with the girls starting 4 p.m. and boys at 5:30 p.m.