Since preseason practice started several weeks ago, first-year Calhoun girls head coach Kayla Ralston said she’s had to keep reminding herself that this year’s team is very young and it will likely be a long process of learning and improving this season. But on Tuesday night, the Lady Jackets grew up a bit and in the process gave Ralston her first career win.
Calhoun used tough defense against a potent North Murray offensive unit and made big plays when they needed to down the stretch to earn a 49-44 Region 6-AAA crossover victory on their home court and cross off a milestone in the young coaches’ career.
The Lady Jackets (1-2) fought back and forth through the first two and a half quarters with North Murray before building a solid lead toward the end of the third and took a 38-28 advantage to the fourth. Calhoun pushed the lead to 42-31 early in the final period, but the Lady Mountaineers (8-2) then went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 42-40 and put the pressure on the young Lady Jackets’ squad. But they responded well and closed out the game with a big bucket from Railey Greeson and a 5-for-7 effort from the free throw line in the final two minutes.
“The girls made some big plays at the end,” said Ralston, who took over for longtime head coach Jerry Pruett this past offseason. “Erin Davis is our leader and she stepped up in the fourth quarter. And Railey made a big shot too. I think the biggest thing that impressed me tonight was our defense. To hold (North Murray) to just two 3-pointers after the way they have shot it early in the season is incredible.
“I know we’re really young, but I believe in my girls. I know we’re going to get there, but I just didn’t know when. We showed what we can do tonight, and our girls grew up a lot tonight.”
The game started with a competitive first quarter which saw the teams tied at 9-9 when the final second ticked off the clock. The second quarter followed much the same script before Calhoun scored the final four points of the half to take a 27-23 lead into the break.
The Lady Jackets came out strong in the third and held North Murray to just five points in the period with all of those coming from the free throw line. That helped Calhoun take a 38-28 lead going to the fourth quarter before the Lady Mountaineers made their late charge to get within two.
Anna George led Calhoun with 13 points before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. She had 10 in the second quarter alone to help her team earn the halftime lead. Lyndi Rae Davis scored 12, including going 4-for-5 from the free throw line. Ralston said the pair of post players were key in Tuesday’s win and have worked hard the past few weeks getting better around the basket.
“We’ve worked on finishing strong and battling down low with both of them,” said Ralston. “We know we’re not always going to get the calls, but we’ve got to fight through that. Lyndi Rae stepped up big time tonight, got some big rebounds and made her free throws. And Anna was huge too. She took over the game in the second quarter, and even after she picked up her fourth foul in the second half, I knew we had to have her in there even if it risked fouling her out.”
Davis and Greeson each scored eight points and were crucial in breaking North Murray’s full-court press throughout the game along with fellow guard Ashlyn Brzozoski. Maggie McBrayer scored five points off the bench as well.
Raven Stone was the leading scorer for North Murray with 18 points, including six in the fourth quarter as she helped her team rally back into the game. Kailee Tipton added eight points, and Sarah Plemons scored seven.
As far as adding career win No. 1 to her resume, Ralston said she gives all the credit to her players.
“I’ve definitely been waiting on it, and I’m trying to let it sink in now,” said Ralston. “It was even better to get it here on our home court in a big region game. I’m proud of how hard the girls played, and this means a lot to me.”
The Lady Jacket are on the road on Friday in a non-region contest at Model at 7 p.m. They are back home on Saturday to host Cartersville at 2:30 p.m.