ALBANY - Supposedly, getting the top seed for the sectional tournament results in a smooth path to the districts, and possibly even beyond.
That's what the top seed is designed for. It doesn't exactly meet that design, which is why virtually every year there's a top seed knocked out of the tournament early by a team no one expected to win.
For three quarters, the Vinton County Lady Vikings had designs on being this year's Cinderella team.
KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Marietta's Amanda Brown (15) draws the foul from Vinton County's Emily Zinn (22) during the second quarter of a girls' sectional final basketball game at Alexander High School Saturday afternoon. Marietta won 63-61.
But there are four quarters in the game of basketball, and when it mattered most the Marietta Lady Tigers came through, rallying from seven down after three quarters of play to post a 63-61 win at Alexander High School Saturday in a sectional final.
"Give them credit. They shot lights out for three quarters. That's what's special about the tournament. Some team gets hot, you could be in trouble," said Marietta girls' basketball coach Scott Cozzens.
The Lady Vikings were certainly on fire, shooting 50 percent at halftime and just under 50 after three quarters while Marietta was just 13-of-45 going into the final stanza.
Marietta 63, Vinton County 61
Vinton County 16 16 16 13 - 61
Marietta 13 15 13 22 - 63
Alexandra Hale 6-11 2-6 15; Caitlyn Owings 6-13 2-4 15; Miranda Hale 1-2 0-0 3; Emily Zinn 1-5 1-3 3; Megan Dixon 5-9 0-0 14; Jamee Park 2-3 2-2 7; Johnna Remy 2-4 0-0 4. Team 23-47 7-15 61. 3pt goals 8 (Dixon 4, A. Hale 1, Owings 1, Zinn 1, Park 1).
Taylor Smith 0-3 0-0 0; Amanda Brown 9-17 1-6 23; Erica Dawson 6-26 17-20 28; Kristen Hill 1-6 0-0 2; Kaitlyn Cozzens 1-4 0-0 2; Allie Moore 0-0 0-2 0; Maddie Farrar 0-0 0-0 0; Lain Weppler 0-1 8-10 8. Team 17-55 24-36 63. 3pt goals 5 (Brown 4, Dawson 1).
Shooting VC 23-47 (49 percent); M 17-55 (31 percent); 3pt shooting VC 8-19; M 5-17; Rebounds VC 28 (Owings 7, Dixon 6); M 39 (Brown 12, Dawson 11); Assists VC 17 (M. Hale 5, Dixon 3); M 10 (Dawson 3); Steals VC 12 (M. Hale 5); M 22 (Dawson 14); Turnovers VC 32; M 21; Blocks VC 6 (Owings 3); M 0; Total fouls VC 21; M 17
Next game: Marietta vs. McClain, noon Feb. 25 at Southeastern High School.
Marietta, however, wasn't given the one seed because the Lady Tigers are a team prone to giving up and laying down for opponents, and that showed in the biggest way down the stretch.
"The girls stepped up when they needed to step up, made plays when we needed to make plays," said Marietta senior Amanda Brown, who had a double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Those clutch plays came in bunches during the final quarter, as Marietta turned a seven point deficit, 48-41, after three quarters of play into just a single point before the fourth was a minute old on Brown's bucket off Erica Dawson's assist.
A timeout by the Lady Vikings stalled the Marietta rally for a time, but once again Marietta made a run, tying the game at 53-53 on a pair of free throws from Dawson, who recorded a triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 14 steals.
"We never gave up on defense. We had to get all the stops," Dawson said.
Vinton County would lead just one more time, 55-53, on a basket by Xan Hale with 4:53 in regulation.
Kaitlyn Cozzens' jumper from the wing tied the game, and Dawson, who had hit 12 consecutive free throws, went 1-of-2 at the line to Marietta ahead for good with 4:09 to play. "Foul shots are like free shots. You've got to have them," Dawson said.
Marietta ended the game 24-for-36 from the charity stripe while Vinton County was just 7-for-15.
Still, despite the ability to get to the line, the Lady Tigers couldn't shake free of the Lady Vikings.
The Lady Tigers led just four times in the contest and never by more than five points. Vinton County led by as many as 11, which came on Caitlyn Owings' bucket off a Hale assist with 2:34 to play in the third quarter to make the score 44-33.
From that point on the deficit slowly began to dwindle, as Vinton County committed 10 turnovers after Owings' bucket.
"We pressured the ball a lot more. We played full court instead of half court. That caused them to rush their passes," Brown said.
Despite their turnovers, the Lady Vikings hit on 5-of-9 field goals in the fourth quarter. However, Vinton County was just 3-for-8 from the free throw line in the final stanza while Marietta was 14-for-20. "That was a long fourth quarter. We were fouling them. They were fouling us. We just made a few more free throws than they did," Cozzens said.
Combined with a renewed offensive presence from Dawson, who had just 12 points in the first three quarters of play, Marietta capitalized. Marietta pushed the lead to 62-57 on Dawson's bucket off a Brown assist with 1:51 to play, but would score just one more point in the contest.
Vinton County remained in striking distance until the final buzzer, as Hale went to the free throw line with 2.3 seconds to play and promptly hit the first charity toss, making the score 63-61. After intentionally missing the second shot, the Lady Vikings got the rebound but couldn't get a last second desperation shot to fall, setting the final score.
"First game of the tournament is always the toughest," Cozzens said.
The strong fourth quarter by Marietta offset what was a game dominated by the Lady Vikings.
Brown scored all 23 of her points in the first three quarters to keep Marietta in the game as Dawson, the team's leading scorer, struggled from the field. Even while struggling from the field, both girls continued to make the little plays, garnering steals and collecting rebounds to avoid letting the Lady Vikings go rampant. "It's not about the points. It's about doing what we can to win, rebounds, steals," Dawson said.
Heart, also plays a role - especially on the glass.
"It's really just who wants it more. The whole team wanted it," Brown said.
Vinton County led 16-13 after one quarter of play and 32-28 at the break as the Lady Vikings had a balanced scoring attack opposed to Marietta's dynamic duo.
As Brown and Dawson combined for 51 of Marietta's 63 points, Vinton County had three girls land in double figures. Hale and Owings each had 15 while Megan Dixon, the younger sister of Marietta College point guard Tori Dixon, had 14.
The balanced scoring, however, couldn't keep up with Marietta as the Lady Tigers claimed their third straight sectional title. Marietta has just four sectional titles in school history, with three of those titles coming with the current group of juniors and seniors on the court, Cozzens noted.
"They should be very proud of what they've done," Cozzens said.