BUFORD -- Despite trailing North Hall 16-11 at halftime, White County coach Buster Brown said they had things right where they wanted them Wednesday night in their first round Region 7-AAA tournament matchup.
The Lady Warriors were used to getting off to rough starts only to stage a second half rally. They executed the plan perfectly using a 13-3 third quarter to grab the lead and then held off a late North Hall rally to take a 37-32 win at the Buford gym.
"That's the way a lot of our games have gone this year," Brown said. "The first half was a stinker. But we're used to that. It wasn't pretty but we made some plays when we needed to."
The win for the Lady Warriors (16-10) puts them in the Class AAA state tournament for the first time since 2002. Brown said the moment wasn't lost on his group, which was barely in grade school the last time White County advanced.
"They knew it had been a while and we talked at halftime about did they want to be the senior class to change things," he said. "They found a way. But really, Paige Thomas decided to get aggresive in the second half and that was the key.
"This is big for them and the program. We're excited about making it to the state tournament. Hopefully we can have some success."
Thomas, a sophomore, poured in 16 of her game-high 20 points in the second half. She ignited a quick 6-0 run to start the third quarter for a 17-16 lead and then put the Lady Warriors ahead for good with a basket late in the quarter for a 21-19 lead.
Thomas would then score White County's first six points in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 30-23.
"We had trouble getting the ball inside in the first half but she just went right at the defense," Brown said.
North Hall, which at one point in the third quarter had more turnovers (22) than points (21) was not done, however. The Lady Trojans went on a 9-3 run over the next three minutes, sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers from Alli Staub, to pull within 33-32 with 1:01 left in the game.
But Thomas would hit a layup to extend White County's lead to 35-32 just 10 seconds later and North Hall would miss two 3-pointers and commit two more turnovers with a chance to tie the game.
Kaitlin Wilson would sink two free throws for the Lady Warriors with 29 seconds left for the final margin.
Perhaps fittingly, North Hall, which committed 28 turnovers for the game, committed two more on its final two possessions.
Nix would finish with 11 points to pace North Hall (14-12). Staub added six for the Lady Trojans.
Cassie Carter had 10 rebounds for White County.
The defenses dominated the first half. The two teams combined for nearly as many turnovers (21) as points (27) with North Hall leading 16-11 at halftime.
North Hall's Jordan Nix got things started with a 3-pointer in the opening minute but it would be nearly four minutes later before White County's Kaitlyn Gearing scored the Lady Warriors first basket to make it a 5-3 North Hall lead.
Neither team could find an offensive rhythm as they combined to shoot less than 20 percent in the first half. The Lady Trojans took an 8-5 lead into the second quarter and extended it to 13-7 on two free throws by Taylor Phillips midway through the period.
White County would cut the lead to 13-10 on a 3-pointer by Thomas but North Hall would close out the half with a 3-1 run.
North Hall had 11 turnovers but outrebounded White County 16-13. White County had 10 turnovers in the first half.