Since March, the question has lingered for Carroll County’s girls’ basketball program – who will step up and replace four-year starters Keely Lundy and Mattie Kennedy?
And for more than a half Tuesday in the season opener, that question loomed even larger as the Lady Cavaliers found themselves down 35-26 to Pulaski County. But just like that, Mariah Carter and Madi Dalton kicked it into high gear, finally stringing some buckets together that allowed Carroll to get its full-court press set. That, in turn, helped the Cavs end the game on an impressive 41-19 run for a 67-54 non-district victory in Hillsville.
“I really felt like the switch hit Mariah Carter. She hit a couple of buckets in a row, made a couple of plays, got to the free throw line and the next thing you know we are up one, and then the motor started turning. We are able to get scores and get our press set. When you are not scoring it is hard to press,” Carroll County head coach Marc Motley said. “Our kids played with great effort. First game, some of the sloppy stuff will hopefully improve. We will get a little smoother taking care of the ball and running our offense but I can’t ask for the kids to play with more effort than they did tonight.”
Dalton scored 11 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter and Carter scored 10 of her 19 points in the third to help key the Carroll County (1-0) comeback. Those two helped negate an ice-cold start as the Cavaliers missed their first nine shots from the floor and turned the ball over four times before Abi Easter drilled a 3-pointer with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter. Despite going scoreless for the first five minutes, the Cavaliers only trailed 5-3.
From there, it was a nip-and-tuck affair for the rest of the first half. Carroll took its first lead at 23-21 late in the second quarter when Carter scored on a nice crosscourt pass from Danielle Gallimore, who finished with 13 points and four assists. Pulaski would end the quarter on a 5-0 run to lead 26-23 at the break, however, and the Cougars opened the third quarter with a 9-3 spurt to pull in front 35-26.
Just when things looked the bleakest for the Cavaliers, they finally started to hit their stride. Carter ignited an 11-0 run with a layup off an assist from Gallimore. Following a Pulaski miss, Dalton hit a jumper. Abigail Kennedy then sandwiched a free throw around four Carter free throws. Kenda Robinson then scored on a driving layup to complete the spurt, putting the Cavs up 37-35 in less than two-and-a-half minutes.
“Our kids that come off the bench, Robinson, (Laken) Alley and Kennedy, they made an immediate impact when they came in the game because we didn’t slow down a bit. When we go to our bench with those three we don’t lose a thing. They still play on the defensive end and they play hard,” Motley said. “For the Basketball Gods, that was not a thing of beauty. But if you’re a guy that likes watching tremendous effort, that was a thing of beauty. This is not the same team we have had the last four or five years but they are gutsy, they are tough and they grind it out. That is what we are going to hang our hat on, being tougher and playing with more grit than anybody we play. I think our depth was the difference in the game because we were able to go to our bench and sustain what we were doing with our starters, and even improved. I thought they got wore down in the fourth quarter. They went up seven early in the third and next thing you know I look up at the scoreboard and we are up one or two.”
Carroll slowly extended its lead to 51-45 early in the fourth quarter. Pulaski center Alexis Phillips, a 6-2 Concord signee, then picked up her fourth and fifth fouls on a personal and technical foul. The Cavaliers turned it into five points as Gallimore and Dalton combined for three free throws and Dalton followed it up with a driving layup for a 56-45 advantage. From that point forward, Carroll controlled the rest of the fourth quarter.
“Mid-third quarter they started to hit that wall. They had a little bit of foul trouble,” Motley said of the scrappy Cougars. “We had foul trouble all night long. We were fortunate enough to be able to play with foul trouble with four kids on the floor playing that had four fouls.”
In the end, Dalton and Carter shouldered most of the scoring load. Dalton finished with 21 points and nine rebounds and Carter added 19 points and nine rebounds. Gallimore scored 13 points and Abigail Kennedy grabbed seven boards. All in all, Motley said Carroll’s depth will continue to be counted on heavily as the Cavaliers move on without Keely Lundy and Mattie Kennedy.
“They were a huge part of this program for four years and we were excited to have them for four years. This is a new group of kids that want to put their stamp on Carroll County basketball,” Motley said. “Not to take anything away from what we did the last four years, but they want their opportunity to shine and they are going to have to shine with grit, toughness and effort.”
Pulaski 13 13 16 12 – 54
Carroll 13 10 20 24 – 67
Pulaski – Stables 4 3-5 12, Haynes 2 3-7 7, Dickerson 2 2-2 8, Akers 1 2-2 4, Noble 2 1-2 5, Ratcliff 5 0-0 10, A. Phillips 3 2-3 8. 3-pointers – Dickerson 2, Stables 1.
Carroll – Easter 1 2-2 5, Dalton 8 4-5 21, Gallimore 2 8-10 13, Robinson 2 0-0 4, Alley 0 1-2 1, Carter 5 9-10 19, Kennedy 1 2-4 4. 3-pointers – Easter 1, Dalton 1, Gallimore 1.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN