The Darlington offense struggled a bit in the first half Friday night, but their defensive intensity picked up the slack until the shots started falling over the final two quarters as the Tigers pulled away for a 46-26 win on their home court in their Region 7-A Private opener against Mount Paran Christian.

Darlington (11-2, 1-0 in 7-A Private) built an early lead by scoring the first 11 points of the game before the offense went a bit cold as they grinded their way to a 21-15 halftime lead with the help of some stingy defense. In the second half, the Tigers got into a little better offensive rhythm as they used a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter to push their lead to double digits and never look back after that.

“We missed a lot of open shots, lay-ups, shots around the basket that we usually make in that first half, but we did a good job defensively of grinding it out and holding them down some,” said Darlington head coach Nathan West. “It was a close game at the half, but we held them to just 15 points so when you do that, you’ve got a pretty good chance. That’s what we talked about at halftime. We knew we weren’t playing terrible, just missing a few more shots than we’re used to. So we made sure they knew they couldn’t relax any defensively and win on the defensive end. It was a bit of an ugly game, but we did what we needed to do to win it.”

Darlington held a 36-22 lead at the end of the third quarter and then held Mount Paran (3-7, 0-1) to just four points in the fourth as they coasted to the 20-point victory down the stretch.

Leading the offensive output for the Tigers was Patrick Shelley with a game-high 16 points. Braden Bell and Asa Shepard each added nine with Bell’s total coming on his three made 3-pointers.

For the visiting Eagles, no player reached double figures against Darlington’s strong defense as they were led in scoring by Bradley Kemp with nine points. No other player scored more than four.

West said it’s always important to start the region schedule on a positive note, and he is looking for his team to continue to grow and improve from here on out.

“It’s always big winning your first region game,” said West. “We’ve talked to our guys about the different parts of the season, and we wanted them to know that our record so far this year doesn’t mean anything going into the region opener tonight. This is the only game that mattered. We got that region win under our belt, and we’re going to keep pushing forward from there.

“I like where our team is. I like how hard they work, how hard they practice and how hard they play. We’ve just got to play better at times and be mentally tougher. We’ve got some guys struggling shooting from the outside, and they just have to push through that and play how we know they can play.”

Darlington will continue their region slate Tuesday when they travel to Christian Heritage for another big 7-A Private battle starting at 7:30 p.m.

Prior to Friday’s game, Darlington honored Shelley with a commemorative basketball to signify the senior passing the 1,000-point milestone for his career. Shelley achieved the feat in the Tigers’ recent win over Model in the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Christmas Tournament Championship Game.

“It’s a great individual accomplishment, but Patrick would be the first to tell you it’s a team award too,” said West. “Patrick plays the game the right way. He’s a high-character kid. He’s a great teammate, and I am very proud of him.”

In the Darlington-Mount Paran Christian girls game earlier on Friday night:

Mount Paran Christian 64, Darlington 44

The Lady Tigers hung around for a while and battled to stay within striking distance into the second half, but in the end Mount Paran’s depth, athleticism and defensive pressure was too much as the visiting Lady Eagles pulled away for a convincing road victory in both team’s region opener.

Darlington (11-2, 0-1 in 7-A Private) trailed 14-9 after one quarter and battled back with some big buckets down the stretch in the second quarter to trail 30-20 at the half after being down by as many as 16 at one point. The Lady Tigers then stayed within 10 until about midway through the third before Mount Paran (9-3, 1-0) pushed the advantage to 14 at 47-33 at the end of the period.

The Lady Eagles then essentially sealed the game and erased any hopes of a Darlington comeback by opening the final quarter on a 7-0 run to go up by 21 and hold steady from there down the stretch.

Mount Paran was led by Kara Dunn, a Georgia Tech commit, who scored a game-high 24 points. Jessica Fields added 16 of her own with 13 coming in the second half, and Jacalyn Myrthil added eight.

Darlington’s top scorer on the night was Emmaline Ratledge with 12 points. Georgeanna Dempsey added 10 as she also reached double figures, and Sarah Tunnell had seven points.

Darlington will look to bounce back Tuesday when they travel to Christian Heritage for another region contest starting at 6 p.m.

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