Early in the game, Marietta High's Erica Dawson laid almost in wait as the Sheridan guard brought the ball across the halfcourt line on the left side.
Picking up her dribble, the Lady General backcourt player looked right and tried to pass to a teammate in the center of the floor. Big mistake.
The 5-foot-9 Dawson immediately pounced like a Lady Tiger out of the bush, picked off the ill-advised throw, and raced back the other way for an uncontested layup to tie the score at 2-all.
That was just the beginning.
Before the final buzzer sounded in last Saturday's sectional final at Alexander High, Dawson would add six more steals to her total and score a career-high 29 points to lead Marietta to a convincing 64-24 triumph over Sheridan. The Lady Tigers (20-2) are now scheduled to play Jackson in a district semifinal at 8 p.m. tonight at Southeastern High.
"A lot of her points came off nice steals or out running with the team," said MHS second-year head coach Scott Cozzens. "She did a good job of avoiding contact and getting the ball up on the glass. She was usually under control in there."
MHS actually struggled early on against Sheridan and trailed 11-9 at the end of one. Dawson had four points in the opening quarter.
But at the start of the second period, Dawson scored two quick buckets, and Marietta was off and running. At the half, she had 12 points, and the Lady Tigers led 26-19.
"I think we came out a little bit nervous (in the first quarter)," Dawson said. "We really wanted to be sectional champ two years in a row."
In the third quarter, Dawson was unstoppable as she scored 11 points to help stretch the MHS advantage to 52-24. The game for all intents and purposes was over with at that point.
"We just wanted to run the ball and get up and down the court really fast - and play our game," Dawson said.
Marietta's game and Dawson's are of course one in the same - uptempo and running - and lots of it. She is after all in the fall a standout cross country competitor, who qualified for the regional meet as a sophomore. This spring, she's expected to run long distances for the MHS track and field team.
So, if it appears that Dawson could run at full tilt all game on the hardwood, she probably could - and effortlessly, too. She never looks fatigued, although Cozzens does give her a breather every now and then to keep her legs fresh for the fourth quarter.
Against Sheridan, Dawson added six more points to her total in the final period as MHS cruised home for the victory.
"What can you say about Erica?" Cozzens said. "She just keeps playing.
"She also does a lot of good things defensively out on the floor that she didn't do last year."
Last year at this time, Dawson was a freshman and helping the Terry Wallis-coached Marietta junior varsity basketball team compile an undefeated 19-0 mark. She was also dressing varsity but saw limited and mostly mop up action on the court.
With all-state scoring machine LeAnne Ross graduating and going to the University of Charleston (W.Va.) to play, Cozzens knew he had some big shoes to fill before the season tipped off.
Fortunately, though, for the Lady Tigers, Dawson was in the wings waiting for her chance. This season, she's led the orange and black in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game.
Against Jackson, Dawson scored a team-high 13 points in Marietta's late-December win (54-50) and a game-high 24 markers in the early February victory (51-50).
"To come as far as she's come in a short period of time, I'm looking forward to the next two years with her," Cozzens said.