The Cartersville girls had the ball and a 34-32 lead inside the final minute of the fourth quarter against Central-Carroll on Saturday at home. One more foul by the visitors and the Canes would be at the foul line with a chance to put the Lions down by two possessions.
But Central never got the opportunity to commit the foul to extend the game, or rather, the Lions never needed to commit the foul. An ill-advised inbounds pass by Cartersville was secured by Central, which scored the game-tying layup.
The Canes had one more chance to win the game in regulation, but the Lions stripped the ball as Cartersville looked set for a possible game-winning layup in the final seconds. Instead, for the second straight meeting, Central managed to pull off an overtime win over Cartersville — this one by a 43-36 final score.
“I think the last minute, minute and a half we had mental breakdowns,” Canes head coach Cindy Moore said. “We didn’t play with confidence. We didn’t play with the composure we needed to. It was really what happened last night. We were down one [point] with under two [minutes] left, and we lost our composure.
“As a coach, I’ll take responsibility a lot of times, when we’re not successful. Honestly, you have to have players who can make the plays, when they get a chance. We’re not doing that consistently.”
Throughout the season Cartersville (7-6, 0-2 Region 5-AAAA) has been a feisty, hard-nosed defensive team. Figuring out how to piece together enough buckets to win has been the struggle. The Canes have shown a solid ability to find the open player on the offensive end, but the young group hasn't been able to always turn it into points.
It looked early on Saturday afternoon as though the scoring woes would lead to a one-sided affair at The Storm Center. Central (12-1, 2-0) jumped out to an 8-0 lead, but Cartersville answered with the final five points of the opening period.
The Canes managed to cut the deficit to a single point during the second quarter before the Lions wound up carrying a 24-17 advantage into halftime. However, the third quarter belonged to Cartersville.
Lehla Thomas had five of her team-high nine points in the period to trim the Central lead to 27-26 entering the fourth quarter.
“We’re doing some good things,” Moore said. “We were down seven. We battled. We got some good looks. I thought they got tired, and we capitalized on that.”
Cartersville scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to build a five-point lead. The Canes held that edge into the final three minutes before the Lions began to rally.
Even still, Cartersville had one last chance to avoid overtime. A nice inbounds pass had the Canes streaking towards the basket with an opportunity to break the deadlock, but the quick hands of the Lions defense knocked the ball away at the last possible moment.
“We had a layup, basically, to win the ballgame," Moore said, "and we didn’t score.”
A shell-shocked Cartersville team was always going to find it tough to shake off the disappointing end to regulation. When Central's Nyah Houston, who finished with a game-high 14 points, knocked down a 3-pointer to take the lead, the visitors never looked like losing.
“We never recovered from that open 3 to start the overtime,” Moore said.
All the Canes could muster in the extra session were two free throws by Ariana Cochran — one of three Cartersville players to finish with exactly six points.
“You need to learn to win close games,” Moore said. “We played a lot of close games early. We kind of just hung on a few times. I know we have a few that are less than five-point margins under our belt. We’ve got some that are going the wrong way.
“Human nature is you don’t want to be the one who makes a mistake. … One of the things I feel like will get us to the next level, which is teams who are consistently successful, is make good decisions.”
The defeat keeps Cartersville winless through its first two region contests. Both games could easily have gone the other way, as Friday night's road loss to Cedartown was a tight game until the final minutes.
While the Canes have had to swallow a couple of tough defeats to open the region portion of the schedule, Cartersville's season will be defined by how it responds moving forward.
Next up is a key home game against LaGrange. The Grangers will enter Tuesday's game also with an 0-2 mark in region after single-digit losses to Central and Cedartown.
“We certainly look forward to the rest of the way,” Moore said. “We’ve got 10 more region games. We can certainly do some things and still accomplish a lot. It’s just got to take a good consistent effort.”