Rutland picks up hard-fought road victory

FORSYTH — The Rutland girls basketball team quietly gathered for a postgame meeting on the floor outside their locker room.

There was no need for a long, drawn out talk. Head coach Johnny Dixon told his team he was proud of their effort, but they still have work to do to be a contender for a state championship.

Those sentiments pretty much summed up the effort on the court against Mary Persons minutes before. The fourth-ranked Hurricanes played solid, steady — but not spectacular — basketball to fend of a game effort from the Bulldogs and standout guard Beneidra Colbert in a 50-40 win Friday at James P. Evans Jr. Gymnasium.

The typically balanced Hurricanes got 13 points from Mercer-bound senior Kendra Grant and another 12 points from both Tae Smith and Zoneshia Davis. Colbert led all scorers with 25 points.

“I think we are playing well right now,” Dixon said, “but there are always things we can get better at. We need to finish more around the basket and take care of the ball better. But I think we are playing well.”

Rutland (11-2) has bounced back quickly following a rough pre-Christmas stretch at Westside. Hampered by some injuries, the Hurricanes lost to Bradley Central (Tenn.) and Northeast before rebounding with a win over Hephzibah. They beat Eagle’s Landing in their first game back from the holidays Tuesday and added the win over Mary Persons to their impressive resume.

“I think the girls get along well and gel together,” Dixon said. “That helps us get through rough stretches.”

With a freshman and two sophomores in their first six, the Hurricanes’ ability to gel could result in a special season. There are no clear favorites in GHSA Class AAA, and the Hurricanes have received enough respect from both the coaches and the sports writers polls to attain the highest ranking in school history.

“They are as good of a team as we’ll see,” Mary Persons head coach Lang Ogelsby said. “They are deep and athletic and balanced and very skilled.”

That balance served the Hurricanes well Friday, helping to fend off each Bulldogs’ run.

Colbert’s 14 first-half points kept the Bulldogs in the game, but a 12-4 Rutland run put the Bulldogs down by 14 in the third quarter.

Mary Persons (6-5) continued to draw closer throughout the fourth quarter, but Rutland answered with a basket nearly every time. A Colbert 3-pointer pulled Mary Persons to within nine points, by Brittany Brooks answered with a layup. Another 3-pointer and a layup by Colbert got the Bulldogs within six points, but Grant answered with four consecutive free throws.

“Right now, we are young and we rely on (Colbert) for most of our scoring,” Ogelsby said. “We need to have some other girls score to take the load off her shoulders.”

Colbert finished with 12 rebounds and seven steals to go with her 25 points.

“I thought we did OK guarding Colbert,” Dixon said. “She’s going to score a lot, but we did a good job of staying on her.”