Of all the possible permutations that could pan out in Region 8-AAAA, North Hall coach Kristi House cares about just one — if the Lady Trojans win out, they’ll likely be among the top three seeds in next week’s region tournament.
Tuesday’s win over cross-town rival Chestatee put them one step closer to that goal.
North Hall (14-10, 5-2 in Region 8-AAAA) knocked down seven 3-pointers to open up a 17-point lead in the first before holding off a frenzied Chestatee revival to win 48-37 in the War Eagles’ gym.
“It’s all about trying to put yourself in a good spot,” House said. “We were lucky to get out of here with a win.”
Down 29-14 at halftime, the Lady War Eagles (14-11, 4-4) opened the second half with a stout defense that held the hot-shooting Lady Trojan team to just three field goals in the final 16 minutes of play. Brooklyn Popham’s layup cut the lead to just five with 54 seconds left in the fourth, but Chestatee failed to hit a shot on its final three possessions.
The Lady Trojans converted 11 of their 16 free throws in the fourth quarter to keep the visitors at arm’s length. North Hall has won three of its last four games heading into Friday’s regular season finale against region rival Stephens County.
“You can’t expect to get down that much to a good team and come back from that,” said Chestatee coach Web Daniel. “But we almost did. The girls didn’t want to trust what we were doing and it hurt us at first. There were too many renegades out there playing, doing their own thing.”
Outside of first-place Buford (20-3, 7-0), every team in the region has at least two region losses, with seeds 2-5 up for grabs among White County, North Hall, Chestatee, Madison County and Stephens County. The Lady Trojans will play Stephens County at home for a chance to cement a top position with a tiebreaker over Madison County in hand.
The win appeared to be in no doubt when North Hall scored seven treys to open the game, including three from Kelsi Gillespie (9 points). Chestatee’s Macey Jarrard (16 points) and Tyler Bennett (8 points) combined to put together an 8-3 run in the final five minutes of the half to stem the damage, but the War Eagles were hurting against North Hall’s incisive shooting.
“We knew coming in that this was one of the best three-point shooting teams in the region,” said Daniel. “We knew they could make 15, easily, so it was a good thing we stopped them at 9.”
Daniel urged his team to double down in the backcourt and found success with limiting North Hall’s shots in the paint. Jarrard scored five points of a 9-3 run that brought the North Hall lead to single digits. The Lady War Eagles then converted on the next two transition layups in the third, including Jarrard’s effort at the buzzer.
“You can’t rely on the 3-ball,” said House. “Anyone who watches this game knows that it can get you into a false sense of security, and it’s tough to pull yourself back out of it.”
Popham’s late layup marked the end of Chestatee’s offensive run. Sophomore Dawndria Bell’s inbounds pass to Bennett with 17 seconds left sailed past Bennett and into the stride of North Hall’s Sadie Cleveland, who was fouled on the way to scoring a layup. Her two free throws pushed the lead back to 10 with 14.9 seconds left on the clock.
Tuesday’s win marked the first time North Hall has been able to string together consecutive wins since Jan. 2.
“These girls could give me a heart attack sometimes,” House said, smiling. “We were expecting more of a defensive intensity out of the team, but we knew it’d be tough to come in here and get a win.”
NORTH HALL BOYS 59, CHESTATEE BOYS 51: Playing smart basketball at the right time, the Trojans opened up a 10-point lead at halftime before holding on late to secure their second win in seven games.
Chestatee’s Rylee Camp hit a 3-pointer from the corner that cut the lead to three with 3:20 left in the third, capping off a 9-2 run.
But the Trojans sank eight of their final 12 free throws in the final eight minutes to seal a vital region victory.
North Hall (12-12, 3-4 in Region 8-AAAA) holds a good chance of sneaking into the 4th or 5th seed in the region tournament if the team can take care of business on Friday night against 8th place Stephens County. Chestatee drops to 12-13, 3-5, finishing its regular season with two straight region losses.
“Everybody from No. 3 to No. 9 can beat each other and have beaten each other,” said North Hall coach Tyler Sanders. “Hopefully this win can take us closer away from being near the 7-9 spots and away from Johnson and Buford. It’s hard to play someone like Buford with your season on the line.”
The Trojans were playing without starter Sam Jackson (illness), but proved they could open up long passages of sustained offense. Carson Heinen led his team with 17 points and pushed an early Trojans lead to 25-17 when his trey fell through. North Hall ended the first half on a 9-2 run to go up by 10.
The War Eagles refused to break and outscored the visitors in a back-and-forth third where neither team could put together more than three field goals in one stretch.
Jordan Pulliam (22 points) scored nine of Chestatee’s 14 points in the fourth, but North Hall played keepaway for the majority of the quarter to ice a win that will boost its chances of surviving the opening round of the region tournament.
Meanwhile, the War Eagles will have to wait until the rest of the region finishes its regular season to discover where they are seeded.
Hunter Creamer added 14 for Chestatee, while Harrison Harper scored 16 points for North Hall, including four 3-pointers.
“They’re battling, doing everything they can to work hard for us,” Sanders said. “We lost a lot of close games at the end last year, but this time, they haven’t been getting frustrated when they give up runs.”