Between both squads, the boys basketball rivalry of Chestatee and West Hall as of late has become a common theme: A nailbiter through and through.
And with the Spartans claiming the last meeting convincingly during a Region 7-4A tournament play-in game Feb. 6, and then using a scoring surge to erase an eight-point deficit for 63-all inside the final three minutes Friday night, Chestatee knew what needed to be done.
Brenton Nicholson knocked down a 3-pointer — one of two for the period and five in the game — with precision to put Chestatee ahead, and the hosts made 7 of 8 from the free throw line to pull away for a 73-65 win in Gainesville.
With the win, Strickland’s War Eagles (8-3, 2-2 Region 7-4A) pick up their third Hall County win of the season, with North Hall next in line today.
“We’ve had really bad luck versus them — I mean, I don’t mean luck, they play really well,” Chestatee coach Kevin Strickland said. “We always seem to crumble at times against West Hall, so it was good to get a win versus them.”
Nicholson finished with 21 points for Chestatee to lead all scorers and made all his attempts from the charity stripe (4 for 4) in the fourth quarter. Jonah Bull poured in 17 points to match Cameron Gwyn (17 points, 4 of 4 free throws) on the score sheet while dishing a team-high five assists with five boards and three steals.
Meanwhile, Noah Edmondson notched 15 points to pace the Spartans, who fall to 2-6 overall and 1-1 in region play. Quentin Smith (9) and Devon Williams (8) were others to produce for West Hall in the loss.
The War Eagles’ willingness to live and die by the 3 was apparent for the first half as all but one of their field goals came from beyond the arc. They were 7 of 18 from 3 in the first half, but went on to combine for 13 treys with a 40 percent mark (13 of 32) — a number of those coming at crucial moments. Gwyn, who was just 3 of 11 from outside, knocked down a 3 to make it a six-point at the half.
Gwyn’s timely make was big for Chestatee, which watched the Spartans explode on a 10-3 run to take a double-digit lead at 28-18 early in the second period and later got back-to-back baskets underneath to keep the margin at nine with under a minute left in the first half.
“You know, that gave them just a little lift right there,” West Hall coach Bobby Pless said.
Then, it was Chestatee’s turn to up the intensity in the second half, Bull lighting the spark at the start of the third period. He drove inside the paint for a basket, snatched a ball on the ensuing possession and dished to Nicholson, who drained a 3 from near the right corner to cut it to 32-31. Bull assisted two more scores as Chestatee exploded for a 21-6 flurry, and the hosts regained the lead at 45-38.
The Spartans closed the third period on a 8-3 run to make it 48-46, Chestatee.
But West Hall ultimately couldn’t match Chestatee from the stripe in the final period. The War Eagles were able to draw plenty of contact inside and made 13 of 16 from the line to ice the game.
Strickland said his team’s ability to play tougher down the stretch made the biggest difference against West Hall.
“We played a lot harder,” Strickland said. “In the first half, all the 50-50 balls (West Hall) got. It was probably 80/20 them. But in the second half, we got on the floor, and I think that, you know, when you’re playing harder, playing with more attention to detail, next thing you know you see even more shots drop.”
As for Pless, there was a little bit of pressing from their end
“We got a little impatient with some of the things we worked on,” Pless said. “Home game, for Chestatee, they had a good crowd tonight. “I think they sped up our games in the end … and from the foul line. ...We knew we just had to match up, and make them shoot over our hands. (But) we held off at the wrong times.”
Chestatee knocked down five first-quarter 3s — two from Bull — to lead 15-14 after the first period, but hit a dry spell as the Spartans began their chase. West Hall scored 10-straight out the second-quarter gates to build a double-digit lead at 28-18. Spartans led 32-26 at halftime.
Both Chestatee teams will visit North Hall today for a non-region doubleheader, the girls game tipping off at 5:30 p.m. in Gainesville. Meanwhile, West Hall continues region play Tuesday, when it hosts Denmark at 6 and 7:30 p.m. in Oakwood.
CHESTATEE GIRLS 56, WEST HALL 44: Maggie McNair led with 14 points and two more scorers tallied double-digit totals as the Lady War Eagles (7-5, 3-1 Region 7-4A) captured their third region win of the season.
Emma Easterwood finished with 12 points behind McNair, while Nicole Sedwick had three 3-pointers as part of an 11-point effort on the floor for Chestatee. Beth Eddins and Christina Garcia also had eight points apiece to supplement the Lady War Eagles.
West Hall’s Kinsey Wilson led all scorers with 24 points while adding five boards, but the Lady Spartans (3-6, 0-3) couldn’t catch their in-county foes in the second half.
Riley Harkin was another to pace the Lady Spartans with eight points. Aashiya White, who had four points, exited the game early in the opening period with an apparent knee injury.