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Lizi Arbogast / Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. Dadeville's D'Aja Caldwell (30) is chased down by Elmore County's Seanna Odaniel.

Forcing turnovers was the name of the game for Dadeville’s girls basketball team in its season opener Monday night. Despite being matched up against Class 4A Elmore County, the Tigers used a high-potent, aggressive defense to force turnover after turnover.

The Panthers finished with 24 miscues, many of which were forced, and suffered a 48-40 defeat.

“I was very impressed with the defense for their first game,” Dadeville coach Pam Holloway said. “I told them, ‘I know it’s the first game but we gotta put that behind us,’ and I thought they really played hard and they didn’t give up. I like that. I like the effort and that was one of my expectations for them.”

Dadeville (1-0) did struggle with some foul trouble, mostly because it was playing so aggressively inside trying to block shots left and right, but the Panthers (2-1) didn’t make them pay. Elmore County went a dismal 4-for-30 at the free-throw line.

“Turnovers and free throws were the game,” ECHS coach Amy Rachel said. “We left 26 points (on free throws). I know it looks like we never practice free throws but I promise we do. I hate to go back to this every time but we graduated a lot of experience last year and there’s a learning curve.

“But I told them, ‘You needed that hard game that pushed you and made you try to find ways to score.’ Right now, that’s what we need to do. We gotta have some consistency scoring; it’s not there.”

CK Bolton led the Panthers with 14 points and Madison Britt added eight, but the Panthers were one point shy of their season high and Rachel knows it’s going to take more than 40 points to beat most of the teams on Elmore County’s schedule.

Dadeville, on the other hand, did have a variety of scoring. The Tigers were led by the usual suspects; returning starters Janiya Wyckoff and Nhylee Banks each had 13 points. But Ka’Niyah Wilkerson contributed six and D’Aja Caldwell put up eight as Dadeville had seven players get in on the scoring.

“We have more that are capable of scoring too; they just have to get more comfortable in what we’re doing and we’re going to have to do a better job of not turning the ball over either offensively,” Holloway said. “I thought we could’ve gotten a lot better shots if we had’ve been more patient and taken better care of the ball.”

It was ultimately Dadeville’s defense that was too much for the Panthers to handle though. Each time Elmore County seemed to make a run at the Tigers late in the fourth quarter, Dadeville answered with a steal or a fast-break layup or some other defensive highlight.

“Coach Holloway has done a phenomenal job with them,” Rachel said. “They’re quick and very well-coached. Anytime you come in and play a team that’s really aggressive and plays that kinda defense, you gotta be mentally prepared for it.”

One thing that did show something positive for Rachel was her team never gave up. Dadeville led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter but the Panthers fought all the way back to make it a four-point game. With the Tigers ahead 44-34 with less than four minutes to go, ECHS reeled off six straight, including back-to-back buckets by Britt.

“I took a timeout with a little over four minutes left and we were down by 11, so there was a lot of ballgame left,” Rachel said. “They kept scrapping, so the effort is there. It’s just mentally we’ve gotta mature a lot really quick.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.