The North Hall girls basketball team struggled to separate itself for three quarters Friday night in its first-round Class 3A playoff game against Pace Academy, but the Lady Trojans shined the brightest in the fourth quarter. Tied early in the final period, North Hall held the Lady Knights to just 1 point in the final six minutes of the game and scored the last 9 points of the contest to run away with a 59-46 victory.
With the win, The Lady Trojans will advance to take on Savannah next Wednesday in the second round. Game time is still to be determined.
“I hope we just get a little bit of confidence from this,” North Hall coach Kristi House said after the game. “I feel like we didn’t have as much confidence as we should have. So hopefully we’ll be confident going forward.”
Rylee McCall led the way for the team with 18 points, getting 7 in both the first and fourth quarters.
After making a couple of mid-range shots early, McCall connected on a 3 midway through the opening period to put the Lady Trojans up by 5. North Hall seemed poised to take control from there, but Pace Academy’s Jordan Upchurch had other plans.
Upchurch hit a pair of 3-point shots late in the first, and then made five more in the second quarter to single-handedly keep the Lady Knights in the contest. She was 7 of 8 from beyond the arc in the first half, and had Pace Academy up by as many as 6 points in the second quarter.
The Lady Trojans responded with 3s of their own from Grace Hollifield and Lauren Swanson though, and Ameliea Shoemaker’s traditional 3-point play with under 10 seconds to go until halftime tied the game up at 27 going into the break.
Despite Upchurch’s 21-point outburst in the first 16 minutes of the game, House said her main message to the team during the intermission was to stay focused on the game plan and keep effort high.
“You have to just trust what we’ve been doing,” she said. “We don’t abandon what we’ve been doing just because somebody gets hot. But we’ve got to make more of an effort to contest that.”
The plan paid off in the second half.
The two squads battled back and forth in the third, but a McCall 3 with 15 seconds to go in the frame put North Hall up by a point going into the final period.
Upchurch hit another 3 early in the fourth quarter, but it was the last basket Pace Academy would make for the remainder of the game.
North Hall got a layup from Maci Gillespie and a corner 3 from Hollifield to turn a tie game into a 5-point advantage. Then, with two minutes left to play, McCall knocked in a dagger 3 that put the Lady Trojans up by 8 and drew huge cheers from the North Hall crowd.
“Rylee kept us in it in the first quarter,” House said. “She came out hot, and then for her to hit that 3 down the stretch, it was awesome.”
The Lady Trojans went 6 for 6 at the free throw line down the stretch to close out any chance of a Pace Academy comeback.