All year, the East Hall girls have been led by their two star seniors, Morgan Jackson and Jasmine Jenkins.
The No. 3 Lady Vikings’ first round state tournament opponent, Dade County, planned to do Friday night what just about every other team had tried, unsuccessfully, to do; take away Jackson and Jenkins.
That left freshman guard Chelsea Dale wide open.
Dale tied the program record for 3-pointers with seven and East Hall held off Dade County 57-47 on Friday night at East Hall High.
“You never expect 26 (points) out of a freshman,” Lady Vikings coach Joey Rider said. “But when I put her out there, I expect her to do well.
“She’s not afraid of the moment. She’s fearless.”
Thanks to Dale’s game-high 26, along with Jenkins’ 12 and Jackson's 10, East Hall (26-3) will host Lovett, which beat Carver (Columbus), on Tuesday in the second round.
The Lady Vikings are back in the second round of the state tournament for the first time since 2010, when the team went to the Sweet 16.
The Lady Wolverines (23-6), making a state tournament appearance for the first time since 2007, lost despite accomplishing, to a large degree, their gameplan.
“It was to not let their two studs beat us,” Dade County coach Randy Watson said. “We were going to make their other players beat us.
“If their third, fourth and fifth options beat you, then that team’s better than you.”
When Dale’s sixth 3-pointer of the game put the Lady Vikings ahead 44-34 with 6:29 remaining, Jackson and Jenkins had scored a combined 12 points. The 3-pointer gave Dale 23.
“They’re going to try and take Jaz and Morgan away, so somebody’s going to have to step up,” Rider said. “They can’t not shoot the basketball, but every shot they took was contested.”
The Lady Wolverines took their chances with the other East Hall players, and Jackson and Jenkins’ teammates made them pay, combining for nine 3-pointers and 35 points.
Dale, who was described by Jenkins after the region championship as the most confident freshman she’s ever seen, didn’t hesitate to shoot whenever she had an opening.
“When I was open I didn’t hesitate,” Dale said. “You’ve just got to have a shooters’ mentality, not think about the last shot.”
Friday night she didn’t have too many bad shots to think about as she led the squad in scoring from the first quarter on, hitting two 3-pointers in the first half and five more in the second.
Still, Dade County, led by Megan Brock’s 17 points, kept it close.
The No. 4 seed out of Region 7-AA last led at 6-5 midway through the first quarter, but the Lady Wolverines reached the fourth quarter down by just four points at 38-34.
A 25-19 rebounding edge helped the tall Dade County squad, boasting a pair of forwards over 6-feet, stay close. Ansley Chilton led the Lady Wolverines with nine rebounds, while Jackson led East Hall with seven to go along with 10 points and four blocks.
As much as the team tried, Dade County couldn’t keep the Lady Vikings’ star seniors from having an impact. Jackson and Jenkins combined to go eight of nine from the free throw line in the last 3:30 to pull away for the win.
Still, even with the clutch free throw shooting, the two seniors ended up with a combined 22 points, 16 below the 38 combined points that the two have averaged this season.
“For the most part, we took away the two kids that we wanted to,” Watson said.
But, with Dale’s offensive showcase coming on the heels of an 11-point performance in the Region 8-AA championship game that included three big 3-pointers, teams are going to have to think twice before focusing on just Jenkins and Jackson.
“It’s good when you have other players who can help score,” Dale said.