DACULA - The Salem girls punched their ticket to the state tournament Thursday night, earning their fourth straight trip as they defeated Winder-Barrow 69-56 in the second round of the Region 8-AAAA tournament in Dacula.
The win propelled Salem into today's semifinal game at 4 p.m. The Lady Seminoles will take on Madison County, who defeated Cedar Shoals 64-57 in the earlier game.
Despite two early offensive fouls, Salem forward Courtney Hurt opened the game with six straight points as Salem raced out to a 17-6 first-quarter lead.
Hurt kept it rolling, scoring 14 of Salem's 19 points in the second period, and Salem led 36-19 at halftime.
Salem's quickness and aggressive defensive play disrupted the Lady Bulldoggs in the first half. Coach Bill Roberts' team also took care of business on the offensive board, scoring eight first-half points off of offensive rebounds.
Winder-Barrow threw caution to the wind in the second half as they went after Salem with full-court pressure and attacked the basket on every possession.
Neither team took care of the ball in the third quarter, especially Salem, which turned the ball over nine times. Despite their sloppy play, the Lady Seminoles led 47-34 going into the final period.
Salem stumbled down the stretch, as the ragged play continued in the fourth quarter. Winder-Barrow kept running and cut the lead to nine with 2:08 to play.
Roberts employed a spread offense and forced the Lady Bulldoggs to foul. Rebecca Mitchell made eight free throws over the final 1:30 to keep Salem's lead at double digits, and Winder-Barrow was unable to sustain its frantic pace.
"We got that cushion and then we started the second half and we didn't control the basketball," Roberts said. "We didn't control the game when we needed to. Our girls lost focus a little bit when they had the lead, and that doesn't need to happen."
Hurt, who finished the season as the state's leading scorer, had a huge night, finishing with 38 points. Mitchell chipped in with 13 points.
Brittany Whit also had a big game for Winder-Barrow, scoring 28 points.