Posted: Thursday, March 7th 2013 at 2:18pm
Basketball: Tight-knit Lady Tigers ready to make most of shot at history
By Morgan Lee Editor
Dawson County's Karlie Bearden dribbles in front of a cheering Dawson County student section, preparing to celebrate during the dying seconds of Tuesday's quarterfinal playoff win over Decatur in Dawsonville.
DAWSON COUNTY -- When it comes to Dawson County basketball, it is very much a family thing -- sometimes literally.
Beyond the rabid fans and expansive community support that make up a sort of extended Tiger family, this year’s girls basketball team has some actual familial connections to the last Dawson County squad to play for it all.
On Saturday Lady Tigers senior Hannah Porter and freshman Peytan Porter will look to go one step further than their mother Tanya, who played on Dawson County’s Class A runner-up squad in 1991.
“I’ve been messing with her; I’ve been telling her that I’m glad we matched you guys, but I hope we beat you,” chuckled Hannah Porter. “But really she wants us to beat what they did too. We’re all just excited.”
Indeed, it seems the entire Dawson citizenry is abuzz about the possibilities when its Lady Tigers (27-5) take on St. Pius X (29-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Macon for the Class AAA crown.
“It’s a good spark for the community. Our community is small, and everybody knows everyone. When you’ve got that, that’s special,” said Dawson County coach Steve Sweat -- who also coached the Lady Tigers in 1990-92 when the program made three straight semifinal appearances. “I’ve had girls moms playing for me, and if they didn’t play for me I probably taught their parents in middle school. This is very unique, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
That unity and continuity has played a key role in the Lady Tigers ascent during the campaign, as players and coaches have fed off the positive energy created both by fans and family -- and within the team itself.
“It’s a wonderful team that is so close-knit,” senior Allie Costley said. “And we’re all so talented and have different strengths and can depend on each other and pick each other up when someone else is suffering.”
“I definitely think it’s our chemistry. We never fight. We’re this group of friends off the court too,” added Hannah Porter -- whose senior class had not even reached the first round of state prior to this year. “We’ll be friends long after basketball. We know where each other are going to cut, who’s going to be where. There’s no substitute for chemistry.”
The Lady Tigers have shown this season that when total unity blends with talent and self-belief it is the type of stuff to end 22-year championship appearance droughts.
“I think the difference this season is that they realized they can do this,” Sweat said. “They’re a good group; they get along; they work well together. And now they know they can do this. That’s what got us this far.”
Perhaps the first glimpse of that promise in action came right after Christmas, when the Lady Tigers defeated Gordon Lee -- which will play in the Class A public championship game this week -- in the Battle of the States Tournament in Hiawassee.
“Once we beat them (66-52) -- and they were a really good team, and that was a really good game -- that gave us a little bit of confidence, helped us head in the right way,” Sweat said.
For a group that once camped out on the gym floor in order to be ready for an early morning practice, a little added belief went a long way.
“I think we were a little shaky and nervous versus Decatur, but we wanted to keep our nerves calm in Savannah,” senior guard Kacie Bearden said. “That (quarterfinal win) helped in the semifinal and our approach.”
Now the Lady Tigers hope that same approach will pay off with the program’s first state championship on Saturday. And while Dawson County knows it faces an extraordinarily tough task against the Lady Golden Lions and standout guard Asia Durr (21 points per game), the Lady Tigers say they are far from nervous about the opportunity.
“They have a really good team,” sophomore Ashley Parker said. “It’s going to be a tough battle, but we also have a good team, and we’re excited.”
As for the Porters, they are getting a little extra motivation at home.
“Our mom’s just telling us to give it our all,” Hannah Porter said. “She’s telling us we can really do this and don’t be satisfied just to be in the championship game. We’re there, we might as well go and win it.”
CLASS AAA GIRLS BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
-- WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday
-- WHERE: Macon Centreplex, Macon
-- RECORDS: Dawson County 27-5, St. Pius X 29-3
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