DAHLONEGA — To a person, the Lumpkin County girls have said all season they are at their best when turning up the defense.
Westminster won’t argue with that.
The Lady Indians forced nine third-quarter turnovers, turning them into 15 points, and pushing a slim 29-23 halftime advantage into an eventual 58-40 route of the Lady Wildcats in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs at Lynn Cottrell gym.
They forced 25 Westminster turnovers for 20 points for the game. After the Lady Wildcats were 5-of-10 on 3-pointers in the first half, Lumpkin County held them to 0-for-6 in the second half.
“That was the conversation at halftime,” Lumpkin County coach David Dowse said afterward. “We weren’t getting into the passing lanes like I know we’re capable of. Lexi (Pierce), Isabel (Davenport) and Mary (Mullinax) were jumping their passing lanes and creating opportunities on the other end. You have to be able to turn over an athletic team like them to have success and we were able to do that.”
In the pivotal third quarter, Lumpkin County forced five straight Westminster turnovers to open the period and on 9 of the Lady Wildcats' first 11 possessions. After Westminster started with a turnover on its first pass, Averie Jones drained a 3-pointer. Davenport then converted a steal into a layup, Jones sank two free throws after another Westminster miscue, Pierce hit a trey, and Jones had a fastbreak basket after another Davenport steal for a 41-23 lead just over three minutes into the third quarter.
The Lady Wildcats never got closer until the final score.
“I think we can play even better than that third quarter,” said Jones, who is just a freshman. “We were almost about as good as we can get but we can always get better. But those early steals and shots really got us going.”
The win moves Lumpkin County (24-4) into the Elite 8 for the first time. A trip to Pierce County, which beat Jackson on Friday, awaits the Lady Indians with a shot at the Final 4.
“We had three goals: win the Christmas tournament, win the region, and get to the Elite 8,” Dowse said. “We’re going to enjoy this one a little but I don’t think these girls are done by a long shot.”
As lopsided as the second half was, the first half was nip-and-tuck most of the way. Neither team led by more than six, which came at the halftime buzzer on a 3-pointer by Mullinax.
There were eight lead changes and four ties just in the first quarter, which ended in a tie at 17. A Jones 3-pointer to open the second quarter gave the Lady Indians the final lead change but they never led by more than four until Mullinax’s shot to end the half.
Jones finished with 27 points to pace Lumpkin County. Mullinax had 10, Davenport 9, and Pierce 8 for the Lady Indians.
Stella Chartrand led Westminster (17-3) with 16 points. Kiera Staude added 11 for the Lady Wildcats.