FORT VALLEY — All season long, East Hall's girls have thrived on responding from adversity in their run to the Class AAA state playoffs.
So when coach Justin Wheeler sat his team down with two minutes gone in the third quarter after a poor defensive stint Friday night, the Lady Vikings knew a change was in store.
“He was telling us to stay strong, to let the game finish itself,” said sophomore guard Kylah Mize, who led the Lady Vikings with 20 points. “We had to execute.”
East Hall ripped off a blazing 10-2 run in the next two minutes before outscoring Peach County 22-10 in the fourth quarter en route to a 71-53 road victory that puts the Lady Vikings in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.
Peach County junior point guard Nausia Woolfolk scored a game-high 33 points, including 19 in the second half, but her numbers couldn’t overshadow a team effort that placed four East Hall scorers in double digits.
“It’s up there,” said Wheeler, when asked if this was his team’s best overall performance. “They defended hard, never got down, and did their best. That’s the best compliment you can give someone, that they did their best.”
East Hall will now wait to play the winner of Washington County vs. Calhoun in the corresponding second-round game.
The matchup was postponed until 5:30 p.m. Monday.
The Lady Vikings had a dream start to their second-round road trip, knocking down seven straight 3-pointers, including six in the first quarter, to lead Peach County 28-23 at halftime.
Wheeler’s team ended up finishing with 10 treys as the Lady Trojans (23-4) put more emphasis on guarding the perimeter in the second half.
But the Lady Vikings picked their shots with precision, pulling out 8-2 and 8-1 runs in the third before converting on one of their final five possessions in the fourth to end any hope of a Peach County comeback.
“I was feeling so pumped,” said Mize, who hit five of her team’s treys. “I was really shocked with myself, because I haven’t hit so many this year. We really depend a lot on our teammates to do what they do and they did.”
The Lady Trojans (23-4) cut the lead to three after Woolfolk hit three consecutive layups to open the third quarter, which led to a disappointed Wheeler calling for the timeout with 6:04 left on the clock.
“When they went on that run, Coach just had to tell us that we were still in this,” said senior guard Jatasia Bailey (16 points). “It picked us up. We’re always trying to help each other and encourage each other when something goes wrong.”
The Lady Vikings, with Wheeler’s words ringing in their ears, responded.
Kylah Mize and Carly Winters hit consecutive 3-pointers with hands in their faces to combine with Bailey’s layup to push East Hall’s lead to double digits within the next two minutes.
Woolfolk scored 14 of her team’s 20 points in the third quarter to cut the lead to six, but East Hall had long since figured out how to cut through Peach County’s zone defense.
The Lady Vikings rattled off eight baskets in the final eight minutes, including six layups, to put a travelling East Hall crowd on its feet.
(Woolfolk) is a great player, it seemed like everything she put up was going in,” said Mize. “We just outscored her.”
Junior Ashlyn Ellison finished with 12 points, while small forward Jenny Edwards chipped in 11.
With the win, the Lady Vikings snapped the Lady Trojans’ 12-game winning streak, which dated back to Jan. 9.
East Hall has now won six of its last seven games, with the lone loss coming against undefeated Dawson County in the Region 7-AAA championship game.
With more basketball still to be played, East Hall’s Bailey said she is nowhere near satisfied.
“We’re hungry for more,” she said with a smile.