North Hall coach Kristi House admitted that North Hall hasn’t been very efficient at the free throw line this season.
“We haven’t been a very good free throw shooting team, but we’ve really been working on that,” said House, whose Lady Trojans responded by missing just two free throws all night. “When you shoot the ball that well at the line, that covers up a lot of mistakes.
“That was different for us.”
The Lady Trojans were at their best late, converting 12 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter to preserve a 51-41 win over Pickens in the first round of the state tournament Saturday in Gainesville.
North Hall (22-7) will host Carrollton at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the second round.
For Lady Trojans senior point guard Taylor Swoszowski (team-high 18 points), it was a breakthrough — the first playoff win in her time at North Hall.
“It’s really exciting, but it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Swoszowski said. “Until now, I’ve been out in the first round every year.”
The team’s floor leader, according to House, Swoszowski made her mark in the second half, scoring 13 points to maintain what was a 28-13 lead at the half.
The first half outburst was mainly courtesy of fellow senior McKenna Rushton, who scored 14 of her 16 points in the first half.
“We came out pretty hot,” House said. “We expected them to make a run, and I’m glad we weathered the storm and are headed to the second round.”
Pickens (19-11), which got as close as eight points in the second half at 49-41 with 12 seconds remaining, was led by Danielle Goss with 14 points and Sarah Smith with 10.
North Hall didn’t waste any time getting on the board.
Mary Kate Rushton hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring, and then her sister, McKenna Rushton, took over, leading the Lady Trojans to a 16-2 start.
Pickens came back on a 9-2 run, including a jumper by Kadie Mullinax (eight points) at the first period buzzer to get within seven at 18-11.
North Hall started on fire in the second half as well, scoring the first 10 points and suffocating the Pickens’ offense.
Pickens didn’t score in the second quarter until the last five seconds on a layup from Mullinax, who led the visitors with four points at the half.
McKenna Rushton accounted for half of the Lady Trojans first half offense with her 14 points.
NORTH HALL BOYS 62, CARTERSVILLE 52: The Trojans had four players in double figures to hold off the No. 3 seed from Region 7-AAA on Saturday night in Gainesville.
North Hall (24-5) will travel to No. 2-ranked Carrollton on Wednesday in the second round of the state tournament.
“It’s going to be a tough environment,” North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. “But at this point that’s pretty much what it is.”
The Trojans could use another balanced night on offense if they want to advance to the Elite Eight. Against Cartersville, North Hall rode a number of different hot hands to the win.
First, it was Preston Smith, who led North Hall with 14 points, 12 coming in the first half on four 3-pointers, the last to start the second quarter.
In the third quarter it was Adam Kelly scoring 10 of his 11 points, including a layup midway through the quarter to put North Hall ahead for good at 37-35, part of an 11-0 Trojans run.
“We challenged him and he came out and responded like a man,” Wood said of Kelly, who owned the paint for those eight minutes.
Senior forward Imani Cross was a force in the paint as well, finishing with 10 points along with the team’s leading scorer, Ebo Smith.
“He had an off shooting night,” the Trojans coach said of his junior point guard. “But we’re a team — when one player has a bad shooting night other players respond.”
Ryan Davis led Cartersville (15-7) with 17 points, J.R. Davis added 16 and Elijah Widden scored 11 for the visitors, whose season is now over.