There was no special play, no drawn-up attack plan when Jatasia Bailey knocked home the most important 3-pointer of her four years at East Hall High.
When she found herself open from the top of the arc, all she was thinking about was to launch it.
“I was open, I was confident, and I took the shot,” she said, smiling.
Her well-placed confidence broke open a late 43-all deadlock with No. 2 seed Banks County (22-5), and sealed the Lady Vikings’ berth into Saturday’s Region 7-AAA title game with a 57-48 win over the Leopards on Friday afternoon at Franklin County High.
Three consecutive fourth-quarter jumpshots by Banks County’s Kaitlyn Duncan helped the Leopards wrestle back an eight-point deficit, but Bailey’s trey gave East Hall its final lead before Carly Winter’s 3-ball from the opposite corner ensured that the Lady Vikings (17-9) will host a playoff game in the upcoming state playoffs.
The semifinal victory felt especially sweet for coach Justin Wheeler’s team, which had been swept by Banks County in the regular season.
Wheeler said his team is playing “its best basketball all season” ahead of tonight’s 7-AAA title game showdown against undefeated Dawson County (25-0).
The championship game will be at 6 p.m. at Franklin County High in Carnesville.
“All I was doing to them (in the fourth quarter) was talking to them, getting them mentally ready for this,” he said. “Dawson’s 25-0, that speaks for itself. But I think we’ve got a better chance with the matchups we have. It’ll be a much better game.”
The Lady Vikings lost to Dawson County by seven, or fewer, points in both of the teams’ matchups so far this season.
The Tigers put together a 12-0 region record, earning the No. 1 seed in the region tournament and a guaranteed state playoff spot.
But the Lady Vikings had their hands full covering senior forward Duncan (game-high 25 points), who was a constant threat from inside the arc.
She single-handedly led her team back from an early 19-11 deficit with her three unanswered jumpers in the paint before Morgan Rylee’s floater from three feet out tied the game at 19 with 3:35 to go in the first half.
East Hall quickly responded, putting together a 6-0 run to open the third before Ashlynn Ellison’s (12 points) wide open 3-pointer pushed the Viking lead to eight with just over eight minutes to play.
“It felt really good, because they’ve had our number all season,” Wheeler said. “We’re certainly fortunate to win when it really counts”
A trey by Rylee (12 points), bookended by two Duncan layups, would tie the game again at 43-all with 5:10 left to play.
That’s when Bailey, in transition and open on the left wing, felt the urge to take a chance. Her shot, a pure swish, gave the Lady Vikings the last lead they would need.
Winters’ 3-pointer from the right wing, a minute later, pushed the lead to 51-45 with 2:05 left to play. East Hall hit all five of their free throws in the final seconds to ice the win.
“Once they started fouling us, that’s when I knew we had it,” said Winters (11 points). “We didn’t play our best against Banks earlier this season, but this time, we did.”
With undefeated Dawson County, coming off a grinding 72-59 win over No. 4 Franklin County set to challenge East Hall next, Bailey said the East Hall locker room is feeling optimistic.
Pulling off a win like that on Friday will do that for a team.
“We feel pretty confident,” said Bailey. “Banks County was a really good team, and now if we can knock off Dawson, we can be the region champs.”
NO. 1 DAWSON COUNTY GIRLS 72, NO. 4 FRANKLIN COUNTY 59: Dawson County coach Steve Sweat was happy his team could book a spot in the Region 7-AAA title game.
He just didn’t want his team to have to work so hard near the end to get there.
Dawson County (26-0) will play East Hall tonight in the region championship game despite giving up 25 fourth-quarter points to Franklin County, which will take on Banks County in the 7-AAA consolation game at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Carnesville.
The Tigers were up by 27 over the Franklin County Lions (15-11) entering the fourth, but gave up 10 field goals in the final eight minutes while scoring just three field goals themselves.
Sweat said he was concerned about the ‘third game’ factor, which he said East Hall used in beating Banks County in its semifinal despite losing to the Leopards twice in the regular season.
With Dawson County beating East Hall twice, as well, he said he would do what he needed to make sure his team doesn’t suffer the same fate.
“I’m going to remind those girls in there,” he said, gesturing to the locker room. “They’re going to be ready, they want to win like we do. They look like they’re playing really well. It’s been a while since we’ve played them, but its the third time too, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Dawson County scored three 3-pointers in the first quarter before building a 39-22 halftime lead.
The Lady Tigers put together a 15-4 run to open the third, but faded quickly in the final eight minutes as Franklin County got more aggressive under the basket.
Sheyenne Seabolt led the Tigers with 17 points, while five different Lady Lions scored in the fourth quarter.
EAST HALL BOYS 86, FRANKLIN COUNTY 58: With the game long since won, Jacquen Hopkins hit a shot so good, even an opponent gave him a high-five.
Noticing that the clock was winding down in the third quarter, the junior stretched out his legs from inside the halfway line and let loose an inch-perfect basket that restored a 30-point lead for East Hall (21-5) against Franklin County in Friday’s Region 7-AAA semifinal.
Even KeAndre Morrison, the Lions’ leading scorer (20 points) was impressed, giving Hopkins a quick slap on the hand as both teams headed to the bench.
“He was like, ‘that was a good shot,’ and that was it,” said Hopkins, who scored 18 for the Vikings in their victory that guarantees East Hall a home state playoff game, as well as a berth in the region title game tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Banks County.
The win was a culmination of everything East Hall, a program which stresses variety, passing and defense, has strived for this season.
The Vikings dismantled Franklin County’s (12-15) attempts at double-teaming leading scorer Kyvon Davenport.
With junior center Devin Vickery on the bench after earning two quick fouls in the paint, there were few other Lions who could lay a hand on the shifty Davenport, (16 points) who helped support a 14-3 run to begin the rout.
The 6-foot-3 senior dominated the glass on both ends, and found success pressuring Franklin defenders with low-post layups.
His jumper from six feet out opened up an 8-0 run to begin the second quarter before Andy Lara’s (10 points) 3-pointer gave East Hall a 20-point lead with 2:37 still to play in the half.
“We’re playing well at the right time,” said East Hall coach Joe Dix. “We’ve got a balance throughout the team, they can create turnovers, they can shoot the ball. It’s all coming together.”
East Hall has gone to the state playoffs every year since the 2008-09 season, according to Dix.But it’ll be the first time Dix’s seniors will get the chance to play for a region title, after three straight years of finishing in third place.
Davenport said the team gets inspiration from watching the professionals play, specifically the San Antonio Spurs, last season’s NBA champions.
His favorite player?
“I like Kawhi Leonard,” he said. “We started watching them after they won, and Coach says we should try to be like them, sharing the ball, defending, being solid.”
Triston Cooper (18 points) and Hopkins both ended the Vikings’ third quarter with treys to put East Hall up by 30, with Hopkins getting the most plaudits from both sidelines.
Four different East Hall players finished in double digits, while Davenport finished with a double-double. Hopkins and Cooper combined to make seven of East Hall’s 11 3-pointers to push the score ever higher.
“It speaks well for us,” said Hopkins. “We’ve worked hard ever since the beginning and played hard. We’re very, very confident, because we’ve been building every day.
The attention now shifts to Banks County, which flattened No. 3 seed Lumpkin County in the earlier semifinal in Carnesville.
Dix said he thought the Leopards’ shooters could be dangerous from long-distance. East Hall gave up only four treys all game to Franklin County.
“They’re a really big team, got good guards, and shot the three well tonight,” Dix said. “It’ll definitely need a good overall game to win.”
East Hall swept Banks County in the regular season en route to finishing undefeated in region play (12-0). The Vikings have won eight of their last nine games heading into tonight’s matchup.
BANKS COUNTY BOYS 77, LUMPKIN COUNTY 49: Banks County head coach Mike Cleveland called East Hall the “expectation” for his Leopards team to follow for this season.
He’ll be coaching against Joe Dix and his 21-5 Vikings in tonight’s Region 7-AAA title game at Franklin County High after a dominant semifinal win over Lumpkin County on Friday evening.
Banks County (23-4) used a 20-1 hot streak in the opening six minutes of the second half to trump the Indians, who drop to 9-18 on the season.
East Hall beat Banks County twice in the regular season en route to a 12-0 undefeated region record.
Tonight’s title game will be at 7:30 p.m. at Franklin County High in Carnesville.
“Both games were very tough, tight games, so we expect this to be a very intense battle,” Cleveland said. “It’ll be a battle, because East Hall is very good, and very well-coached.”
Following a 5-win season two years ago, Cleveland said he was proud of his Banks County team for turning the corner to compete for the region title.
The Indians were up by three after eight minutes, but Banks County used a 12-2 run in the middle of the second quarter to open up an 13-point halftime lead.
The Leopards scored 29 and 28 points in the second and third quarters, respectively. Meanwhile, Lumpkin County was held to just two field goals in the third.
Zez Steeple led the way with 19 points for the Leopards, while Kahmal Wiley tacked on 14 in a winning effort.
Justin Haskew led the Indians with 13 points, while Jack Howard (11 points) was the only other Lumpkin County player with double digits.
Banks County has won six straight and nine of its last 10 coming into tonight’s matchup.
Lumpkin County will take on Franklin County in the 7-AAA consolation game at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.