By Derrick Mahone
After a 19-point loss in its last game to Region 4-AAAA leader Forest Park, Dutchtown coach Angela Williams challenged her team to play with more heart and passion in their next game.
The Bulldogs played a near flawless game in setting the tempo early as they cruised to a 66-47 win over host Jonesboro, despite missing one of its key starters. Dutchtown was without Alyssa Strickland, who was in street clothes after sustaining an ankle injury in the Forest Park game on Tuesday.
In her place, reserve Aisha Atwater stepped into the lineup. Strickland's twin, Brittney, provided most of the offensive firepower with a game-high 23 points. Abria Trice and Atwater each finished with 16 points.
"I made a challenge to my girls," Williams said. "I thought they stepped up to the challenge and hustled. We have a lot of athletes on our team, and when you challenge an athlete's heart, they usually respond."
And the Bulldogs did in a big way.
Dutchtown jumped to a 16-4 lead early in the fourth quarter and was never really challenged the rest of the way. Jonesboro, which suffered its first loss in five games, led 3-2 at the beginning, but the Bulldogs would they take over.
Brittney dedicated the game to her sister by wearing her No. 22 jersey. The two will attend Alabama A&M this fall on basketball scholarships.
"We wanted to send a message," Brittney Strickland said. "We knew we had a problem with our defense against Forest Park, and we wanted to correct that. We had to come out strong after coach challenged us in practice."
The Bulldogs defense seemed much improved as they held a 30-13 lead at the intermission. Jonesboro was held to only seven points in the second quarter. During the second quarter, the Cardinals went nearly five minutes without a score. A free throw by Kayla Dowdell with 3:16 remaining in the quarter snapped a cold streak by the Cardinals, who were trailing 27-9 at that point.
A lay-up by Dowdell with three seconds remaining before the half was the only field goal the Cardinals could muster.
"We emphasis defense and setting the tone early, but it was Dutchtown that did it tonight," Jonesboro coach Michael House said. "We got behind early and played catch-up the majority of the game. We got to be the team that is first knocking the other in the mouth. Turnovers and rebounds really killed us."
Jonesboro had 18 turnovers that contributed to a lot of the Bulldogs' scoring.
With the win, Dutchtown improved to 12-2 overall and 7-1 in the region as they trail leader Forest Park. Jonesboro, the defending region champion and semifinalist from last season, is 7-8 and 4-4.
Jonesboro players said they could tell that Dutchtown was on a mission.
"I think they had sometime to prove," Jonesboro senior center Jasmine Mitchell said. "We are going to keep at it. This season is not lost year."
Williams said she was pleased at how Atwater was able to step into the lineup and contribute. It was only the second start of the season for the junior, who is usually the first sub off the bench.
"She give us exactly what we wanted," Williams said.
"Aisha played a huge role for us," Brittney Strickland said. "I'm extremely proud of her on both the defensive and offensive end of the floor. She did everything we asked of her."
Dutchtown players called Tuesday's 74-55 lost to Forest Park an eye-opener that has given them motivation for the rest of the season. The Bulldogs had won six straight games before the Forest Park loss.
"I think we kind of needed that," Strickland said. "I think we had sort of gotten complacent."
"I hate that it takes a loss for them to get it into fifth or sixth gear," she said. "Sometimes it takes some bumps and bruises to get their attention."