Saturday night, those freshmen showed the region what they -- coupled with its seasoned veterans -- have learned about basketball as they took Dalton to the mat before falling 54-51.
That loss was tempered by the fact Cartersville lost the game at the foul lane, going to the charity line just two times and sinking one on the evening while Dalton buried 19 of 25 free throws to win the region 7-AAA crown.
Head coach Donna Enis said the Lady Canes did everything right but missed some key shots and didn't get to the foul line enough. "I feel like the kids carried out our game plan perfectly. I felt like we handled their press. We were patient on offense and patient on defense.
"I am so proud of our kids and the way they played and handled themselves. Dalton is ranked No. 2 in the state and we gave them all they could handle."
The game started out as a seesaw affair right after tip-off with Dalton scoring a bucket two minutes in.
Cartersville answered when Katie O'Connor used the glass to tie the game 18 seconds later. Kea Garnigan then buried a 3-pointer at the 5:04 mark and the Lady Canes had their first lead on the night.
Dalton closed to 5-4 half a minute later but Lady Cane Kaelyn Irby answered with a deuce -- the first of her 17 on the night -- for a 7-4 lead.
A 5-2 run knotted the game at 9-all with 2:19 remaining in the quarter but Cartersville broke that by scoring two buckets to close the first frame with a 13-9 lead.
Dalton roared out in the second period, using a 12-7 run to claim its first lead at 21-20 with 4:04 showing. Both teams scored nine points in the run up to the break, allowing Dalton to maintain its slim one-point lead for a 30-29 differential.
In the third quarter with Dalton holding a slight edge, Stefanie Will found the range from 3-point land to tie the game at 34-all. It was knotted again at 36-all when Will tossed in a second trey, for a 39-36 score. A 5-2 run by Dalton tied it at 41-all with just over three minutes remaining. Then Dalton's Quanisha McCurty buried a 2-pointer to give Dalton a 43-41 lead that held until the quarter ended.
In the final period, Cartersville clawed its way into the lead after a deuce by Irby put it up 44-43. Dalton added a free throw to knot the game at 44-all, then two free throws by Maddie Howell to go up by two.
Adrienne Green knotted the game again, at 46-all, half a minute later.
Dalton tried to pull away with a field goal and two foul shots, raising the total to 50-46.
The Lady Canes scratched their way back in it again with a trey by Irby, to trail 50-49. McCurty added a two pointer to put Dalton up 52-49. Irby answered that with a big time steal and layup, closing to 52-51. A 3-pointer by Dalton ended the scoring.
Enis said the 19 points Dalton hit at the foul line was big. "That was the difference in the ball game."
The loss drops Cartersville to 14-11 on the season while Dalton improves to 28-0.
Carterville's Irby was also named to the region all-tournament team for her play.
The Lady Canes now host Stone Mountain Friday night in the first round of the state tournament. Coach Enis said she expects to learn the times of the game on Monday.