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Taylor: North Hall girls have options on offense
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To get to the state basketball semifinals in Macon - or even the quarterfinals in Dalton - teams generally need to have an established identity.

The Dawson County boys, one of the great underdog stories of the tournament, advanced to the quarterfinals and came within seconds of a semifinals berth on the strength of their suffocating matchup-zone defense.

And the North Hall girls are headed back to Macon for the first time in two decades thanks, in large part, to an explosive offense.

The Lady Trojans basketball team entered the state tournament as Region 8-AAA's most prolific scoring team. After Friday's win over Allatoona to advance to Macon, the Lady Trojans are averaging 57 points per game.

The key to North Hall's potent offense is not one or two scorers, but that a half-dozen or more players on the team are more than capable of scoring in double digits any night.

"People always talk about the Rushton twins, the big scorers, but we have five or six players who can score in double digits," said North Hall coach Kristi House the day after four players did so on the way to a 67-58 win over No. 4 Allatoona.

In that game, not only did seniors Mary Kate and McKenna Rushton score a combined 25 points, but point guard Taylor Swoszowski led the team in scoring with 17 (bumping her average to nearly 10 points per game) and freshman forward Sydney Cleveland added 11 points on 5 of 5 shooting.

"She's played lots of minutes all year, she crashes the boards, defends well, rebounds well," House said of the freshman. "I fully expected her to step up yesterday."

Even players who normally don't score in bunches can light up the scoreboard if the primary options are having cold spells. Senior guard Tiffany Hamilton, the team's defensive specialist, dropped 11 points to seal the subregion crown in a win over Franklin County earlier in the season.

"Tiffany, she's capable of knocking down the 3-point shot," House said. "But she always guards the other team's best guard.

"She's one of the unsung heroes. She's the glue that keeps the team together."

It is this team's top notch scoring ability that has enabled them to focus primarily on improving their defense, something that will come in handy when they go up against defending state champs Washington County at 4 p.m. Friday at the Macon Centreplex. The No. 1 Lady Golden Hawks (30-0) haven't lost since 2010 and have averaged just under 70 points per game on offense this season.

For once, the Lady Trojans might actually try to slow the pace.

"At this time we have to be flexible," House said. "We might alter what we do because they like to run."

House said it helps to have a team loaded with veteran players who know the value of putting in the time and effort.

"They're able to use adjustments, scouting reports," she said of her upperclassmen. "The seniors know the value of studying."

The coach said that the team has practiced defense about 80 percent of the time, knowing that the offense will continue to work itself out.

"They're good basketball players, fundamentally solid," House said. "They know how to score."

Still, even if the Lady Trojans can slow down Washington County, the offense will have to be as efficient and explosive as it has been this season. Everybody's going to have to be able to score.

"We just try to take what we get," House said.

"When our third and fourth options are getting an open shot, Friday we're going to have to knock it down."

The Lady Trojans might try to take a page out of the Dawson County playbook and slow down Friday's game. However well that works, they know they can score.

Zac Taylor is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at