With 0.4 seconds on the clock and a trip to the region championship on the line, East Hall turned to a sophomore.
Sedrion Morse connected on a last-gasp layup at the buzzer to lift the Vikings past West Hall Friday night in the Region 7-AAA semifinals, securing a 54-52 comeback victory.
East Hall (19-7) had the ball after an attempted rebound from the Spartans (13-12) knocked the ball out of bounds. The referees deemed there to be 0.4 seconds remaining when the ball landed out of play.
Vikings coach Joe Dix called a timeout to draw up a play. Then he took a look at what Zac Swansey directed his West Hall team to do and called another timeout.
“Tylor (Brown) was,” Dix said about who the play was supposed to target originally. “We saw how they were playing Tylor and knew we had to go to something else. They were not going to let Tylor receive that ball.”
Dix said he just added “a wrinkle” to a play the team already runs and the team executed it.
“We used Tylor as a decoy and Sedrion did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Dix said. “Luke Holtzclaw did exactly what he was supposed to do because he’s the one who created the opening by going and dragging one of their players into the corner.”
“The first thing I was worried about wasn’t making the shot,” he said. “It was catching the ball because I don’t have good hands. That’s the only thing I was worrying about.”
Dix said it didn’t much matter if the ball did go in because the worst thing that happens is overtime.
“Four-tenths of a second, that’s all you can do,” the coach said. “I was hoping he would get it up there and he did and he made it. Man, that’s cool.”
With 2:30 left in the third quarter, the Spartans held a 40-25 lead and went into the final period leading 42-29.
From there, East Hall nearly doubled its point total with 25 in the fourth. Brown was a big part of that, scoring 10 in the quarter. Andy Lara added eight of his 11 points in the fourth.
“Seniors,” Dix said. “They played like seniors. Andy really played well and then went into a slump. I told him last night I thought he played well, then he hit two really big 3s in the fourth quarter.
“Tylor is our best player,” he continued. “He was a little tired tonight because he really shouldered the load, but he did what was necessary down the stretch.”
West Hall used a strong defense to build a nine-point halftime lead, powered by Tyquan Statham. Statham built a 12point second quarter, which included highlights like a statement dunk and a buzzer-beating layup to give West Hall its 28-19 lead. But it also included him missing four free throws.
Xzavier Reid had six points in the first half, but it was his eight rebounds in that time that proved most valuable for his squad.
Markese Jackson scored 11 points in the first 16 minutes, which included three 3-pointers, for East Hall.
“He kept us in the game in the first half,” said Dix. “We didn’t play very well tonight. Markese has been a spark plug for us. He hit some big shots to keep us in the game early.”
Brown and Statham tied for a game-high 17 points for their respective teams.
Jackson finished the game with 13 points. Reid had 13 points for West Hall. Esteban Ulloa knocked down 11 points for the Spartans.
Dix said he’s hoping the excitement from Friday’s buzzer-beater win proves to be fruitful in tonight’s championship game and on into the state tournament.
“I’m hoping we can ride that cloud for a little longer,” Dix said. “We’ll get a chance to get a good night’s rest. We don’t play until a little later. We’ll sleep in. These kids play in AAU tournaments all the time and play in two or three games in a day. They’ll be fine.”
East Hall’s Triston Cooper has been battling a torn ligament in his ankle, according to Dix, but played through it in the semifinal.
“I thought he was done, but he may go. We’ll see,” Dix said. “He gave us some courageous minutes tonight. He’s basically out there playing on guts and courage.”
East Hall will be back on the floor at 7:30 tonight against Lumpkin County in Dahlonega to play for the Region 7-AAA championship. West Hall will play at 4:30 p.m. in the consolation bracket against Banks County to determine seeding for the state tournament.
WEST HALL GIRLS 69, EAST HALL 52: The Lady Spartans (18-8) are riding a crazy last few weeks of play. In their second round of regular season play against region opponents, West Hall went 6-0. Just last week, the Lady Spartans defeated the top two teams in the region, East Hall and Dawson County, within two days.
Now, they’ve extended a winning streak to nine straight games after defeating the Lady Vikings (20-6) for the second time in nearly a week to go to the Region 7-AAA championship game where they’ll face Dawson County.
The Lady Spartans and the Lady Tigers will tip off at 6 p.m. tonight in the region championship game in Dahlonega. East Hall will play Banks County at 3 p.m. in the consolation bracket to determine seeding for the state tournament.
“It’s nice to know we can come play tomorrow night for the first region championship for our school since 2002,” said West Hall coach Bryan Richerson. “To get the No. 1 seed is special. We’ll still get to play at home, but to play that other side’s No. 4 seed will be a little bit better.”
Where last week’s game was a double-overtime thriller, Friday night’s victory proved the Lady Spartans can play with the best of Class AAA as they outscored East Hall 21-8 in the final 9:15 of a region semifinal matchup.
“I felt our defense got better as the game went on,” said Richerson. “Our game plan worked. We tried to take (Ashlyn) Ellison away. We tried to take (Carly) Winters away, but she made some great shots.”
West Hall’s second half was boosted by the play of Anna Mckendree who posted a 10-point third quarter, doubling her total in the first half. She finished with a game-high 23 points.
“She moves to the basketball,” said Richerson. “She gravitates to it. What I’m most proud of Anna for tonight, she was mentally tough. We knew we were going to get their best shot in trying to take her away, but she answered.”
Teammate Macy Passmore complemented the play of Mckendree with 21 points.
Passmore scored nine in the second quarter, giving her a 13-point first half. On the night, she was 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
Passmore played the game with six stitches in her eye due to an injury from Thursday night’s contest.
“She had some motivation,” said Richerson. “She wanted to prove that she could play and she came out from the start. When she starts doing stuff like that, it opens up other stuff for Anna. If she does that every night, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Izzy Salgado was also a big part of the second half, totaling nine points in the final two quarters. As a team, West Hall was 12-for-15 from the charity stripe.
Winters (19 points) scored 15 in the first half, which included her hitting a trio of 3-pointers.
Mize (17 points) scored nine points in the first half, all on 3s.