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East Hall girls defeat Calhoun, 68-54, advance to state semifinals
Lady Vikings hit 11 3-pointers in Class AAA quarterfinal win
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East Hall's Ashlyn Ellison dribbles downcourt while being guarded by Calhoun's Kyleigh Carney during the East Hall vs. Calhoun game in the Class AAA quarterfinals on Friday in Calhoun. - photo by Erin O. Smith

CALHOUN — The East Hall girls basketball team was almost a two-hour drive from its campus, but the Lady Vikings looked right at home Friday afternoon at Calhoun High.

East Hall continued its torrid pace from beyond the 3-point line to roll into the Class AAA state semifinals for the first time since the program’s 2007 state title.

The second-seeded Lady Vikings poured in 11 3-pointers and earned a 68-54 quarterfinal road win against No. 1 seed Calhoun.

East Hall advances to face Beach at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the state semifinals at Columbus State University in Columbus.

“They shoot with confidence,” Lady Vikings coach Justin Wheeler said. “That’s all you can ask.”

As much as the long-distance shots stand out, East Hall kept the Lady Yellow Jackets honest with its ability to drive into the lane and finish or dish it back out to the perimeter. The Vikings also connected on 15 of their 21 free-throw attempts.

“That's what I’m proud of. People always talk about our 3s,” Wheeler said. “I like it when we go to the basket. That’s what I get excited about. I get excited about the layups, the and-ones.”

Jenny Edwards led East Hall (20-10) with 14 points, including an 8-for-9 clip at the free throw line in the fourth quarter after missing considerable court time with foul trouble in the second and third quarters.

“I felt like I owed something to the team,” Edwards said.

Chelsea Dale added 13 points, including four 3-pointers. Jatasia Bailey and Carly Winters each hit three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points.

“Everybody knows that we’re a shooting team,” Bailey said. “So when we’re open, we just feel confident, we shoot the ball and we just know it’s going in.”

Kylah Mize added nine points and Ashlyn Ellison eight for a balanced East Hall group.

Dale hit a trio of 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second quarter, the second of which gave the Vikings the lead for good. Her second and third treys were part of an 8-0 run that turned a 17-15 deficit into a 23-17 lead.

“I was feeling pretty confident,” Dale said. “I have a shooter’s mentality, so I always forget the last shot and focus on the next one.”

The edge grew to 30-21 on a pair of Mize free throws with 2:37 left in the second quarter before a 9-2 run by Calhoun cut it to 32-30 after two Ashlyn Barnes free throws in the final minute of the half. Naturally, a 3-pointer from Winters pushed it back to 35-30 by halftime.

Dale, Winters and Bailey each sank a 3-pointer and Edwards had an old-fashioned three-point play in the third quarter as East Hall pushed its lead to 50-40 going into the final eight minutes.

A pair of steals led to layups by Jana Johns and Sydnie Parker that cut it to 50-44 and forced a timeout by Wheeler with 6:40 remaining. Then Edwards began to take over late with her 8-of-9 mark pacing the Vikings’ 11-of-13 effort at the charity stripe in the final quarter.

Winters also had a 3-pointer that extended the margin back to 55-46 with 4:56 left.

“We’re really excited because we haven't been to the final four for a while,” Winters said.

Johns paced Calhoun (25-5) with 18 points as Tamia Wade and Parker each added 12.

Calhoun coach Jerry Pruett said East Hall had four effective long-range shooters and also benefited from Ellison and Edwards’ ability to get to the basket off the dribble.

“That’s a very hard matchup for most teams,” Pruett said. “And I can see why they’re on a roll now because if you shoot it the way they’re shooting it from out there on the perimeter, it’s tough.”

The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday but had to be postponed twice due to inclement weather. The delay leaves the Lady Vikings with a quick turnaround for their semifinal matchup.

Wheeler said the team planned to drive straight to Columbus and make use of the seven hotel rooms he booked in advance.

“It’s kind of a good thing that it's a quick turnaround because we don’t have time to think about it,” Wheeler said. “Just go play.”

East Hall has won 10 of its past 12 games. The players point to a selfless mentality fueling the group’s late-season surge.

“Lately we’ve been staying together as a team really well,” Edwards said. “Whenever a team punches us, we just hit back instead of falling down. We’ve been fighting through it really well.”

It’s a mindset that has the Lady Vikings two wins from a state championship.

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