TIGER — Make it 10 wins in a row and a Region 8-AA championship for the East Hall boys basketball team.
Led by a strong fourth-quarter press defense and the calm free-throw shooting of senior Dre Perry down the stretch, the fifth-ranked Vikings defeated Rabun County, 61-54, on Saturday in the region title game.
Perry made 7-of-8 free throws, all in the final minute, and the Vikings (22-5) came back to win a game in which they trailed 28-25 at halftime.
“He’s got ice water in his veins,” East Hall coach Joe Dix said of Perry. “He didn’t let the moment or the crowd get to him.”
Perry finished with a team-high 18 points and said he wasn’t going to let his team down with the game on the line.
“We spend a lot of time in practice on free throws and I wasn’t going to let that go to waste,” Perry said. “I wasn’t going to let my team lose.”
With the game knotted at 44 going into the final period, East Hall went into a full-court defense that forced five Rabun County (18-10) turnovers in the game’s final 4 minutes and 19 seconds.
“Winning a game like this is all about making plays,” Dix said. “And we made them on defense down the stretch.”
The turnover story was a different one in the first half, with the Wildcats taking advantage of 11 turnovers from East Hall to take a lead into intermission of the program’s first appearance in a region title game.
“We told our guys to relax,” Dix said of his halftime talk with the team. “We told them we were in the game and we knew the crowd was into it, but we had done some bone-head things in the first half.
“We limited those types of things in the second half.”
The Vikings led by seven less than a minute into the second quarter, but a 16-6 run but the Wildcats, sparked by those pesky East Hall turnovers, put new life into the Rabun County gym.
The Wildcats run was led by junior Dillon Bleckley, who scored 13 of his game-high 27 points in the second quarter. Bleckley finished with 14 rebounds, also a game high.
“It's tough, to have such a good game and lose,” Bleckley said. “But now we’ve got to look ahead.”
Sophomore Brian Edwards led the way on the boards for East Hall, pulling down nine rebounds to go along with eight points.
“I just tried to come in with energy,” Edwards, who comes off the bench, said. “I just try to do whatever the team needs me to do to win.”
That kind of team-first attitude is East Hall’s biggest strength, according to Dix.
“This is a team, it’s a bunch of guys finding a way to win,” Dix said. “This time of year, it’s all about finding a way to win.”
The Vikings host the fourth seed from Region 6-AA, Decatur, and Rabun County hosts third-seeded Buford, on Saturday at times yet to be determined.
In the girls championship game, Rabun County defeated Fannin County, 59-46, for their second straight Region 8-AA title. Rabun and Fannin will host the No. 3 and 4 seed from Region 6-AA, respectively, when the state playoffs begin.
UNION COUNTY GIRLS 48, EAST HALL 41: Holli Abernathy tied a game-high with 14 points and the Lady Panthers used a 16-point fourth quarter run to pull away in the girls consolation game and earn the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AA.
Bekka Merritt put up 13 points and Catie Tanner added 10 for Union County (14-13), which led 25-20 at intermission. The Lady Panthers will visit Greater Atlanta Christian in the opening round of the playoffs.
Natalie Johnson led East Hall (15-11) with 14 points, while Morgan Jackson added 10. The Lady Vikings will visit the top seed from Region 6-AA, two-time defending state champion Buford, on Friday at a time yet to be determined.
In the boys consolation game, Hart County, led by 22 points from Jordan Carter, defeated Elbert County, 58-49.