Photo by Brian Paglia / Dutchtown coach April Tate exhorts her team not to buckle under the pressure of Jonesboro’s full-court defense during a timeout in the fourth quarter.
HAMPTON — Dutchtown girls basketball coach April Tate made sure the summer-long refrain she drilled into her team — “Prepare, compete and conquer” — would get put to the test early this season.
After playing against perennial state contenders Fayette County and Stephenson in a Thanksgiving tournament, Tate felt the Lady Bulldogs were prepared.
After bouncing back from those losses with two sharp performances, Tate saw her team knew how to compete.
And after Dutchtown’s 61-51 victory against Jonesboro in a Region 4-AAAA game Friday, the Lady Bulldogs finally got the conquering moment they’d been looking for.
“I’m excited. Just so excited,” Tate said. “That was a big win for this team.”
Indeed, Jonesboro (3-1, 0-1) was coming off a state tournament semifinals appearance and returned the majority of its lineup, including Division I signees Briana Benson (Jacksonville State) and Kim Dawkins (Jacksonville). And the Lady Cardinals were coming off their own early-season signature moment, a 61-52 victory over the same Southwest DeKalb team that dealt them the semifinals loss.
Jonesboro looked the part of a state title contender early, jumping out to a 9-4 lead and disrupting Dutchtown with its size and a full-court pressure defense.
So in came Dutchtown back-up point guard Ciera Lowe. Tate inserted Lowe with starter Victoria Nelson, giving the Lady Bulldogs two diminutive yet speedy guards to break Jonesboro’s press. Gradually, Dutchtown trimmed the deficit and took the lead for good at 18-17 on a basket by Lowe in the second quarter.
“We’re probably the two quickest guards out there,” Lowe said. “That helped break the press, and knowing we’d have a taller player open in the middle of the press to pass to.”
Lowe and Kivanna Kudratt led four Lady Bulldogs in double figures with 12 points each. Domonique Clune added 11 and Nelson scored 10.
Despite all its struggles — foul trouble for both Benson and Dawkins and inconsistent shooting — Jonesboro responded in the most grave moments.
When Dutchtown took its biggest lead at 33-24 in the third quarter, the Lady Cardinals rallied — even with Benson on the bench with four fouls — to cut it to 41-40 early in the fourth on a 3-pointer by Victoria Florence (14 points).
When Dutchtown started to pull away again, taking a 50-42 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Dawkins (15 points, seven rebounds) scored five of Jonesboro’s next seven points to make it 50-49.
But Tate said she never saw her team’s confidence or poise waver during Jonesboro’s runs.
“That calmness makes us a better team,” Tate said.
Calmness was thrown aside when Sydney Gunby made a 3-pointer that sent the crowd into a frenzy and forced Jonesboro to start fouling.
“We’ve got to learn how to deal with the pressure,” Jonesboro coach Lamar Harris said. “You can’t play for the crowd. You’ve just got to execute regardless and remain focused. We’ve got a target on our back. If we didn’t see it before, we see it now.”
“Now we know we have a chance to go to the Final Four,” Lowe said. “That’s a Final Four team. Now we know we’re prepared.”