S'Nitra Mack likes her home inside the paint.
The Whale Branch Early College High School senior has moved back inside after a season on the wing. She is comfortable working for layups underneath, and she has a mechanism for coping with her misses -- drawing fouls and utilizing a spot-on free-throw stroke.
Mack, a 2011 all-state selection in Class 1-A, converted underneath Friday and dropped key free throws during a second quarter run to help the Warriors to a 65-63 victory at rival Battery Creek.
Mack finished 8 of 9 from the free-throw line and scored 20 points for Whale Branch, which appeared ready to run away with the latest installment of this rivalry until Battery Creek ripped off 10 consecutive points to start the third quarter. The Dolphins remained in the game the rest of the way, buoyed by Daisja Cannon's 29 points.
Battery Creek lost only one senior from last season and is much improved, Mack and Warriors coach Wilbert Bryant said.
Bryant thought Whale Branch offered an assist by backing into a close game for the second time this season after holding a large lead. Whale Branch has won its first two games by five total points.
Bryant again preached in the postgame locker room the need to finish.
"We did force some passes and got over-excited," Mack said. "Next time, I think we'll do better."
At halftime, his team leading by 14, Bryant told players the first three minutes of the third quarter would be the game's most important, to own that stretch. Instead, the Dolphins pulled within 44-40, getting past the Warriors' press and converting off of offensive rebounds.
Cannon kept the Dolphins within striking distance, her layup with nine seconds remaining pulling Battery Creek within two. But after the Warriors missed the front end of a one-and-one, Cannon's halfcourt heave fell short.
Sophomore guard Kemoni Jenkins added 19 points to help lead the Warriors.
"We righted the ship," Bryant said.
But they left with respect for the 2-A Dolphins, who struggled the first two seasons after Whale Branch formed but now appear ready to compete with their depth.
"They came a long way," Mack said. "They run. They're conditioned."
Whale Branch girls 65, Battery Creek 63
Whale Branch (2-0) -- S'Nitra Mack 20, Kemoni Jenkins 19, Sharrin Reed 12, Kenyada Moultrie 6, Jonae Riley 6, Dana Chapel 2.
Battery Creek (0-1) -- Daisja Cannon 29, Elizabeth Ford 12, Alex Bazemore 8, Alisha Varela 7, Erica Alston 6, Brianna Gilbert 1.
Whale Branch boys 62, Battery Creek 46
Whale Branch coach Linc Lyles planned to skip over much of the Warriors' late-game film from its season opener against Hilton Head Island High, preferring instead to dwell on the positives of the narrow victory. But he wanted Whale Branch to focus on the finish, to make the plays that keep an opposing team from hanging around.
He received the effort Friday, as the Warriors withstood a fired-up Battery Creek squad to run away in the second half. Lyles' team led by as many as 22 after an 8-0 run during the fourth quarter. The halftime lead on Battery Creek was only three.
"They smacked us in the mouth," Lyles said. "They played hard. We turned it on in the second half."
Lyles said the Warriors benefited from shooting only about half as many 3-pointers as they did against Hilton Head High and instead driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line.
Whale Branch (2-0) -- Dee Delaney 16, Charles Jiles 15, Jay Abney 12, Justin Rhode 9, Denzel Daniel 8, Terrell Hazell 2.
Battery Creek (0-1) -- Yuneek Crittendon 16, Raheem Cooper 6, Adonis Williams 6, Christian Brown 5, Devontae Wilson 5, Ikeem Powell 4, Eric Freeman 2, Cleveland Hampton 2.