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East Hall girls upset Banks County to clinch playoff spot

Lady Vikings erased double-digit deficit in second half of region tourney opener

POSTED: February 15, 2014 10:09 p.m.

Jenny Edwards said that sometimes when things don’t go well for the East Hall girls basketball team, the Lady Vikings have a tendency to give up.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday in the opening round of the Region 7-AAA tournament.

The No. 6 seed Lady Vikings (13-13) rallied from a double-digit deficit and did anything but surrender, knocking off No. 3 seed Banks County 63-56 at North Hall High.

With the win, East Hall clinched a spot in the Class AAA state playoffs, which begin Feb. 21. Banks County (18-8) saw its season come to a close with the loss.

“We are just really up and down and sometimes, just one thing goes wrong and we just kind of give up,” Edwards said. “But at the end we pull it together. We just wanted to win and get coach to state.”

After an up-and-down year that saw the Lady Vikings enter the region tournament with a losing record, East Hall proved just how far it has come this season.

The Lady Vikings erased multiple double-digit deficits, including one midway through the third quarter, withstanding the pressures of playing in a win-or-go-home game that had both fan bases chiming in on nearly every play.

“It makes me happy because it makes the girls happy,” East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said. “I’ve been there, I’ve played. My playing days are over. They’re still playing and I want them to experience things I didn’t. I never won a championship. I want them to win one.”

Jatasia Bailey finished with 18 points for East Hall, while Edwards scored all 18 of her points in the second half to rally the Lady Vikings from an 11-point third-quarter deficit. Ashlyn Ellison finished with 12.

Kaitlyn Duncan led Banks County with a game-high 22 points, but fouled out late in the fourth quarter, and Casey Turner contributed with 13 points for the Lady Leopards.

Saturday’s game was similar in many ways to how East Hall’s regular season went — A slow start, followed by a good run before getting pushed back down.

But like they had done after a slow start to region play, which featured a 69-42 loss to Dawson County on Jan. 3, the Lady Vikings continued to work and chip away.

That was the case on Saturday.

White County built a pair of double-digit leads in the first half, with East Hall closing back within a few points each time. Banks County, though, quickly re-extended its lead back to 11 points early in the third quarter, which is when the East Hall girls picked up their level of intensity on both sides of the ball and mounted their comeback.

After allowing Banks County to get open behind the perimeter in the first half, the Lady Vikings shut out the Lady Leopards from 3-point range in the second half, while picking up the defensive pressure in the lane.

The extra defensive pressure gave East Hall fast break opportunities on the other end, a major reason the Lady Vikings were able to close back.

“In the first half, we let them get in the middle a lot and you never want that, not matter what sport you’re playing,” Wheeler said. “We were giving up the middle and that’s not what we are supposed to do.

“So little things like that, protecting the middle, getting offensive rebounds, stuff like that (were the difference in the second half).”

East Hall used a 14-8 run to close out the third quarter, bringing the deficit to 46-43 heading into the final quarter.

“We had some attitude problems in the first half and coach told us to put them aside and play as teammates, work together,” Edwards said.

The Lady Vikings grabbed their first lead of the game at the 5:20 mark of the fourth quarter, in the midst of a 9-0 run. At the end of that run, the Lady Vikings led 54-48, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.

East Hall played the majority of the fourth quarter in the double bonus, going to the foul line for two shots with every Banks County foul. Needing to foul to stop the clock, Duncan and Turner each fouled out for the Lady Leopards, taking away two of their best scoring options.

The Lady Vikings struggled from the foul line in the fourth quarter, though, missing 13 free-throw shots. Despite the struggles at the line, East Hall’s defensive pressure was too much and Banks County wasn’t able to muster a comeback.

East Hall will play in the Region 7-AAA tournament winner’s bracket at 4 p.m. Monday at Buford High School, the host for the remainder of the tournament.

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