DAHLONEGA — The moment was not lost on any member of the Lumpkin County girls basketball team.
“It feels good,” Lumpkin coach David Dowse said. “This is a tight-knit group that had one mission all season. This has been a four-year journey for this group and a long time coming for the community.”
The “journey” was trying to accomplish something no Lady Indians team had been able to do since 1991. Tuesday night, they put “it” to rest with a thrilling 50-46 win over Gilmer in the Region 7-3A finals at the Lynn Cottrell gym to capture the program’s first region title in 30 years.
“It definitely happened. It feels great,” said senior Isabel Davenport, who scored the final nine points for Lumpkin County over the final 4:49 to help them fight off several Lady Bobcat surges. She finished with 15 for the game.
“We had all had big shots during the game,” Davenport said. “Mine just came at the end.”
“It doesn’t feel real right now,” fellow senior Makenzie Caldwell said. “It’s just unreal to be able to accomplish the goal we’ve been working for for four years.”
Caldwell had just six points but she dominated the boards (12 rebounds) and contributed with two big defensive stops in the final minutes.
“That’s our game,” Caldwell said. “We’re at our best when we play defense and slow things down on offense. I just tried to do what I could inside to help us win.”
It was the 11th straight win for Lumpkin County (22-4) which will carry the No. 1 seed from Region 7-3A into the state tournament, which begins next week.
“Right now we’re just going to enjoy this one,” Dowse said. “It’s going to be a tough state tournament and we’re going to start getting ready after we celebrate this a little.”
Lumpkin County trailed just once early in the first quarter but fought off three Gilmer possessions that would have tied the game or given the Lady Bobcats the lead in the final two minutes.
After Gilmer had trimmed a 14-point deficit to just a 41-39 Lumpkin lead, Davenport drained a long 3-pointer and converted a fastbreak basket in a 30-second span to push the lead back to 46-39. The Lady Bobcats answered back with a 3-pointer from Emma Callihan to get within 46-44 with 1:51 left. But after a steal, Gilmer missed two shots with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Davenport then sank four free throws over the final 1:19, including a pair with just 14 seconds left to seal it.
“The end of the game just kind of came to me,” Davenport said. “It wasn't something we were trying to do. I’m just glad I was able to come through for the team.”
It was a slow start for both teams, as they combined to miss their first 10 shots with four combined turnovers. It wasn’t until Lumpkin’s Mary Mullinax converted on a stickback basket more than three minutes in that anyone scored.
Gilmer needed almost five minutes to score but Beth Burnette’s 3-pointer gave the Lady Bobcats a 3-2 lead. From there, the Lady Indians defense took over.
Lumpkin only forced six Gilmer turnovers in the first half, but an aggressive zone defense held the Lady Bobcats to just 6-of-21 shooting for the half.
Following Burnette’s 3-pointer, a Davenport 3-pointer reclaimed the lead for Lumpkin County and a Averie Jones trey gave Lumpkin an 11-6 lead to end the first quarter. A second Davenport 3-pointer capped a 14-3 run and Gilmer never led again.
The Lady Indians eventually extended their lead to 26-13 on a Lexi Pierce 3-pointer and took a 26-15 lead into the intermission. Lumpkin continued to press the attack in the third quarter running out to a 35-21 lead.
The Bobcats, however, finally got some traction with their full-court press. They forced five Lumpkin turnovers to help spark an 18-6 run to get within 41-39 on a Elly Callihan basket with 5:28 left in the game.
But Davenport took over from there.
Mullinax finished with 16 points to lead the Lady Indians. Jones finished with 7 points for Lumpkin County.
Gilmer (17-6) was led by Emma Callihan’s 13 points. Hope Colwell had 11 and Elly Callihan and Burnette each finished with 9 points for the Lady Bobcats.
In the third place game, White County held off North Hall 66-52 to grab the No. 3 seed heading into the state tournament. The Lady Trojans will be the fourth seed.