East Hall girls coach Joey Rider had a simple message for his team after a tough loss Tuesday night to visiting Fannin County: The sky is not falling.
The fourth-year coach felt it was important to reiterate that lesson, because the Lady Vikings (7-6, 1-1 Region 8A-AA) are closing in on new territory after dropping a 47-44 decision to Class AA’s sixth-ranked Lady Rebels.
“These girls aren’t used to getting beat,” Rider said. “The last three years we barely lost six games all year, so this is something they aren’t used to, but we’ve got to learn from it.”
There will be plenty of teachable moments to take from this loss. The Lady Vikings had possession three times in the final minute trailing by one point, but could never manage a clear look at the basket.
East Hall initially tried to set up a pick-and-roll with its two best offensive players, point guard Jasmine Jenkins and forward Morgan Jackson, but the Fannin County defense didn’t allow it. So, with a hand in her face, Taylor Bishop took a 3-pointer. She narrowly missed with 30 seconds left.
“We didn’t execute like we needed to on offense, whether it was the pick-and-roll or whatever,” Rider said. “(Fannin County) did defend it well, but we didn’t execute like we should a lot tonight, and that was just one example.”
The Lady Vikings got another chance after Fannin County’s Kaileigh Satterfield missed a free throw with 16.6 seconds remaining. After the East Hall rebound, Rider saved the team from a turnover, calling a timeout with 5.8 seconds left just before the Lady Vikings lost possession. Nonetheless, East Hall couldn’t get an open shot after the break, and Jenkins was forced to take a well-defended jumper that glanced off the rim.
Satterfield was fouled in the scramble for the rebound and provided the final margin with two free throws while 0.1 seconds hung on the clock.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Fannin County coach Suzianne Pass said. “That’s one thing we focus on every day in practice.”
Early in the game it was the Lady Rebels’ offense — specifically their 3-point shooting — that kept the Lady Vikings at arm’s length. Fannin County drained four 3-pointers in the first quarter en route to an 18-12 lead. Three of the 3s came from Lauren Junnier, who finished with four 3-pointers and a team-high 14 points.
The Lady Rebels led by as many as nine points multiple times throughout the game, but could never put East Hall away completely. Likewise, East Hall could never overtake Fannin, despite clawing to within one possession at least once per quarter.
“This was a big win for us — our biggest,” Pass said. “A lot of times people see you’re undefeated, but they say ‘oh, you’re playing little Tennessee schools or little North Carolina schools,’ so this was big. It’s a subregion game, and it’s against East Hall ... they’re a good team and (Jenkins) and (Jackson) are very good players.”
With the win, the Lady Rebels keep pace with third-ranked Rabun County, which was also unbeaten entering Tuesday night’s game against Elbert County.
For East Hall, Rider is focused on making sure his girls realize how much basketball is still left to be played.
“We’ve got to learn how to get better off of a loss and how to handle late-game situations,” Rider said. “But we’ve still got a lot of the season left. This was only our second region game.”
Jenkins finished with a game-high 17 points, while Jackson added 13 and Bishop had seven.
Brooke Thomas scored 13 for Fannin County, and Satterfield had 10.
The Lady Vikings return to action Wednesday, traveling to take on Dawson County. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
Fannin County will host Banks County at 7 p.m. Friday.