By Derrick Mahone
DULUTH -- As the Dutchtown players headed to the locker room as the final buzzer sounded at the Arena at Gwinnett, Brittney Strickland tried to hold back the tears. She kept telling her teammates to keep their heads up.
Despite the 10-ranked Bulldogs 75-56 season-ending loss to No. 4 Northwest Whitfield in the Class AAAA semifinals Wednesday, Dutchtown coach Angela Williams reflect on the positives of this historic season.
The sixth-year school won its first region basketball championship and made its inaugural appearance in the final four.
"I'm really proud of this team, and this group of seniors," Williams said. "Nobody thought we would even make it this far. No matter what, this group has set the bar high for the rest to follow."
It was the second straight season that a Henry County team made a final four appearance.
Last season, Henry County lost in the Class AA semifinals in Macon.
"I'm just proud of my teammates," senior point guard Brittney Strickland said. "It was a long great season. I have a lot of things to be happy about. I hate to lose, but this group did a lot of good things."
For the first two quarters, Dutchtown ran its gameplan like it was designed. The Bulldogs didn't let Northwest Whitfield's perimeter shooting get the best of them.
But the third quarter presented major problems.
With the Dutchtown defenders sagging into the paint to help out on the Bruins twin towers combination of Quaneisha McCurty and Christy Robinson, Northwest guard Jordi Cook feasted on perimeter shooting.
Cook finished with 27 points, 21 in the third quarter.
Williams didn't want her team to play help defense on the Bruins' inside players in fear of the Bulldogs getting hurt by their perimeter shooting.
"We said no help because we knew their point guard likes to drive and then kick it out," Williams said.
"They hit some big 3-pointers," Strickland said. "That girl could shoot."
Strickland didn't do bad herself. She finished with a game-high 29 points after a slow start with only seven points early.
The Bulldogs (27-3) got down 18-10 in the first quarter as Northwest outscored them 10-0 in the paint. Dutchtown went the entire first quarter without a two-point field goal. Courtney Durham and Strickland hit a pair of 3-pointers to go with four free throws. Strickland's jumper with 2:48 remaining in the second quarter was the Bulldogs' first two-point field goal of the game as trailed 25-15.
McCurty, who is 6-feet-4, had 19 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Abria Trice scored 12 points as the only other Dutchtown player in double figures.
"At the beginning of the game, we didn't play as aggressive," Strickland said. "We were sort of sizing them up. We waited a little too late in the game to play aggressive offense."