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North Hall girls win 67-58, advance to state semifinals
It's the team's first final 4 in 21 years
McKenna Rushton of North Hall goes for a loose ball in front of Alexis Ezell of Alllatoona. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

DALTON — North Hall coach Kristi House said the locker room was quiet after the game, the players struggling to find the words.

“They’re so happy that they’re just in awe,” House said. “They’re beyond words.”

The Lady Trojans knocked off Allatoona 67-58 on Saturday in the state tournament at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center to advance to Macon and the semifinals for the first time in 21 years.

The Lady Trojans (24-7) will play Washington County at 4 p.m. Friday at the Macon Centreplex in the semifinals.

House, a player on the last semifinal team in 1991, found the words for her team.

“It’s important for the kids to enjoy this,” she said. “It’s going to be special.”

It wasn’t just that North Hall won; it was how.

The senior-led team jumped ahead by double digits in the second quarter and continued to run away from the Lady Buccaneers (26-5) for most of the night.

“I knew they could get off to a good start,” House said. “We said we were going to go in and make plays.”

The Lady Trojans did just that. Senior McKenna Rushton (10 points, 11 rebounds) hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished with eight points in the opening quarter. Twin sister Mary Kate Rushton (15 points) took over in the second with three consecutive 3-pointers and 13 points by halftime, at which point the lead had ballooned to 36-19.

It was enough of a cushion to hold off Allatoona’s attempt at a rally.

“It gave us a little comfort there when they went on the runs,” North Hall senior Taylor Swoszowski said.

Swoszowski led the Lady Trojans with 17 points, including 7 of 8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to maintain the lead.

Still, both Swoszowski and House said that the Lady Buccaneers late run caused some worry for a team that had only just survived a rally attempt by Carrollton in the second round. North Hall had held on for a two-point win to advance.

“It was kind of nerve-racking, we were getting kind of rattled,” the Lady Trojans point guard said. “We just had to remember to slow it down and play our game.”

Saturday afternoon, North Hall’s gameplan also included a lot of sharing. In addition to the three seniors who have led the team in scoring this season, freshman Sydney Cleveland added 11 points, and senior forward Sarah Paschall scored eight.

A total of eight Lady Trojans scored as House juggled her lineups early on.

“We have a lot of players who can play,” she said. “We wanted to get everybody’s feet wet and see what groups worked well together.”

In the first half, nearly every combination worked well, and in the fourth quarter, Swoszowski took over to quell any chance of an Allatoona comeback despite nine Lady Trojans turnovers.

Alexis Ezell led the Lady Buccaneers with 19 points, Elise Spann added 16 and Alyssa Dobson 14 for Allatoona, which got as close as 63-58 with 20 seconds remaining.

McKenna Rushton and Swoszowski hit two free throws each to shut the door on the Lady Buccaneers and punch their tickets to Macon.

“We’re ecstatic,” Swoszowski said. “It’s not really real yet, but this is the furthest we’ve ever made it.”

The freshman Cleveland agreed.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s real,” Cleveland said. “But it’s pretty exciting.”

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