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Powell leads Duluth girls basketball to breakthrough state tournament victory

Katie Powell, Duluth

Katie Powell, Duluth

DULUTH – The Duluth girls made the state tournament the past three years, but lost in the first round each time.

“With some of the things that happened, it was as if we were snake bit,” coach Chad Pittman said.

The Wildcats lost once in the closing seconds and another time when standout Katie Powell had to sit out after suffering a concussion.

Powell was healthy this time, though, and Duluth was the higher seed playing at home. That gave the Wildcats an edge and they took advantage Friday night.

Powell scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the way as Duluth (18-11) rolled to a 55-31 victory over visiting Lassiter (13-16) in the Class AAAAAA first round.

“We really wanted this,” said the 6-foot-3 Powell, who has signed with Texas Christian. “It’s almost a surreal feeling.”

Now Duluth will have to try keep winning, this time on the road. The Wildcats will play at Region 6-AAAAAA champion North Forsyth (27-2) on Monday in the second round. North Forsyth defeated Central Gwinnett 63-49.

Duluth, runner-up to defending state champion Norcross in Region 7-AAAAAA, took advantage of their height advantage from the start against Lassiter, the No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAAAAA. It wasn’t until the second half, though, that the Wildcats pulled away after turning up the defensive pressure.

“Maybe what happened before was in the back of players’ minds in the first half,” said Pittman, in his fourth season at Duluth. “We were playing not to lose rather then trying to win. So at halftime, I decided to speed things up and take advantage of our athleticism as well as our height.”

Duluth closed the third quarter on a 12-2 run to go up 38-23 and kept pulling away in the fourth.

Alyah McGriff joined Powell with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Fellow senior Jazmyn Johnson was also in double figures with 11 rebounds as the Wildcats controlled the boards.

Freshmen Endia Banks and Bree Dixon also did their part. Banks had nine points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Dixon had six points and four assists.

Grace Keheley with 10 points was the only double-figure scorer for Lassiter, but the Trojans didn’t back down in the early going.

Lassiter lead 11-10 on Maeve Vitale’s desperation 30-foot 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer and was within 22-17 at halftime as Duluth went just 2-for-7 at the foul line.

Powell scored eight of her 11 first-half points in the second quarter and also had three of her four blocked shots by intermission.

It was the fourth game in five days for Duluth, but it was Lassiter which wilted in the second half as the Wildcats appeared to be the fresher team.

“I’m proud of the way we played,” Pittman said. “We get another game, which is the best part.”

Duluth went to the state semifinals in 2008 and the quarterfinals in 2009 when Jeremy Huckaby was coach. Now Pittman would like to be part of a long playoff run himself.