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Vikings, Trojans meet again in region semifinal
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Region tournament semifinals

Region 7-AAA at North Hall

Fannin County girls vs. Dawson County, 4 p.m. Friday

Dawson County boys vs. Buford, 5:30 p.m. Friday

Buford girls vs. White County, 7 p.m. Friday

East Hall boys vs. North Hall, 8:30 p.m. Friday

Region 8-AAAAA at Apalachee

Flowery Branch girls vs. Salem, 7 p.m. Friday

Gainesville boys vs. Apalachee, 8:30 p.m. Friday

Region 8-AA at Greene County

Jefferson boys vs. Rabun County, 7 p.m. Friday

The storied basketball rivalry between East Hall and Gainesville isn’t going anywhere.

But East Hall and North Hall is starting to heat up.

The two teams meet for the third time this season at 8:30 p.m. Friday at North Hall High in the semifinals of the Region 7-AAA Tournament. Neither side expects the game to be any different from the first two, both of which were decided in overtime.

“It’s been a great rivalry,” North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. “I think when we play East Hall, it’s kind of like what all high school sports should be about.

“When our two teams play each other, you don’t need any incentive to play harder.”

The evidence backs it up. North Hall swept the regular season series this season but had to win both in overtime, including rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to win the last meeting 88-83 in
January.

“Any loss hurts,” said East Hall senior Brian Edwards, “but when you’re up by 16 and they rally to tie late and beat you in overtime, that really breaks your back.”

The win was the fourth consecutive for North Hall (24-2) in a series between the Hall County opponents that had previously been dominated by East Hall (12-14), which won a pair of state titles in the previous decade. East Hall last won on Jan. 29, 2011, during the 2010-2011 season in which the Vikings swept both meetings.

The Trojans recent success, along with the teams moving into Region 7-AAA this season, has created the perfect breeding ground for another intense rivalry in the county, not to mention the fact that the players know each other well. Wood said North Hall senior Ebo Smith and East Hall seniors Edwards and Hayden
Chapman all play on the same travel team outside of their high school affiliations.

“There’s still nothing like going up against Big Red, but (the rivalry with) North Hall’s gotten bigger,” Chapman said. “Ever since Coach Wood came to North Hall it’s gotten bigger.”

Of course, this game means more than county bragging rights. It also determines whether a team gets at least one home state playoff game or not. And while North Hall is the No. 1 seed and playing at home and East Hall is No. 4 and still sporting an overall losing record, there’s no indication this meeting will be anything less than the previous two.

The only potential difference would be if Smith, North Hall’s leading scorer, isn’t able to play. He suffered a concussion last week in the win over Buford and didn’t play in the Trojans’ first-round win Tuesday night, but Wood said he’ll be seen by the doctor Friday and the doctor will then make the call.

“It’s a game-time decision,” Wood said.

East Hall coach Joe Dix said he’s preparing for the dangerous Smith to play.

Dix also isn’t worried about his players needing any extra motivation for this game.

“It’s a region semifinal — the winner gets a home playoff game,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be about revenge, it needs to be about the moment. We need to make the right plays.”

One of the keys for East Hall will be defending North Hall forward Adam Kelly, who surpassed 30 points in each of the first two meetings this season. East Hall focused on defending the perimeter in the first two meetings, which worked well to limit North Hall’s 3-point shooters but also allowed Kelly room in the paint.

Chapman said the responsibility for keeping Kelly contained lies as much with the guards as the forwards.

“We’ve got to cut down on penetration,” he said. “They dump it down to (Kelly) and he’s killing us.”

Wood doesn’t expect East Hall to alter the defense too much, though. In both meetings the Vikings’ defensive style nearly resulted in a win against the regular season region champions.

And while the rivalry with North Hall may not yet have anything close to history of the series with Gainesville, right now East Hall is poised to turn a tough regular season into another solid postseason if it can top the Trojans in a game that could very well add more fuel to the rivalry’s fire.

“We had expectations that we were one of the four best teams in the region,” Dix said. “We scheduled hard, and that probably cost us some wins, and we’re in a great region. But now we’re in the tournament, and that’s what its about right now.”

Friday's winner will play in region championship game Saturday against either No. 2 Buford or No. 3 Dawson County, who play at 5:30 p.m. Friday at North Hall in the other semifinal. Fannin County plays Dawson County at 4 p.m. and White County plays Buford at 7 p.m. in the Region 7-AAA girls semifinals Friday, also at North Hall.

East Hall defeated West Hall 63-53 on Tuesday to reach the semifinals, while North Hall cruised by Fannin County 69-22 in the first round.

While the East Hall and North Hall boys basketball rivalry is certainly building up, this game still stands on another level with a region tournament title game berth on the line. And, whether fueled by the rivalry or not, Wood is expecting the game to have that big Hall County rivalry feel.

“It should be a great environment,” he said.

Regional events