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West Hall boys defeat Fannin County to earn first trip to state tournament since 2010-11
Spartans open game on 13-0 run behind Esteban Ulloa's "aggressive" play
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Fannin County's Hunter Gray (32) fouls West Hall's Tae Reid (25) during Thursday's Region 7-AAA quarterfinal at East Hall High School. - photo by ERIN O. SMITH | The Times

West Hall was on a mission Thursday night to return to the state tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

Mission accomplished. The Spartans topped Fannin County 56-40 at East Hall High, stealing quick momentum off of their 13-0 run to start the game.

“Our main goal was to get to the state tournament,” West Hall coach Zac Swansey said. “From the day I took this job, I told them I fully expect us to be in the state tournament. If they trusted and bought into our process, we would do that, and we did that tonight.

“The guys bought in for 32 minutes, and we’re exactly where we want to be.”

West Hall will tackle East Hall in the Region 7-AAA semifinals 5:30 p.m. Friday at Lumpkin County High.

West Hall senior Esteban Ulloa started the game with two quick layups driving through the lane.

“I just came out aggressive,” said Ulloa, who finished with 22 points. “Looking to score, trying to get my teammates involved. Just being aggressive and confident.”

After Ulloa got the Spartans (13-12) rolling, Tyquan Statham (14 points) fought through contact to score an old-fashioned 3-point play. Point guard Dylan Barron seized off the momentum connecting on three straight assists, including an alley-oop to Xzavier Reid that got a roar from the West Hall crowd.

Fannin County (11-14) was settling for jumpshots early on, while West Hall was driving hard to the basket on every possession.

The Rebels made a push in the second quarter to get it to 29-19 at the half, but the Spartans started the second half much like the first, this time with an 11-2 run. The Spartans pushed the lead up to 20 points at one point in the fourth quarter.

With 40 seconds left, Statham threw down an emphatic dunk. It was a fitting way to announce the Spartans’ return to the state tournament.

EAST HALL 76, FRANKLIN COUNTY 63: The Lions provided the Vikings with an early scare, but the Vikings were able to right the ship in the second half en route to victory in the 7-AAA quarterfinals.

Franklin County got out to a 9-4 lead before Luke Holtzclaw connected on two key 3-pointers to even the score and help swing East Hall’s momentum.

With the win, East Hall progresses to play West Hall in the 7-AAA semifinals 5:30 p.m. Friday at Lumpkin County High. The Vikings have also clinched a spot in the Class AAA state tournament.

At the half, it was only a seven point lead for East Hall (33-26), but that quickly changed at the start of the third quarter.

“We came out, made some plays, the guys really picked it up in the third quarter,” said East Hall coach Joe Dix.

The Vikings exited the locker room and proceeded to go on a 16-2 run with the help of a suffocating full-court press that caused turnover after turnover.

The East Hall surge was led by Tylor and Mahki Brown. Tylor (18 points) was on the attack, forcing steals and scoring easy buckets, while Mahki (16 points) remained strong on the boards all game and was a dominating presence in the post.

LUMPKIN COUNTY 45, DAWSON COUNTY 37: The Indians earned a trip to the state tournament and a matchup with top-seeded Banks County with their win Thursday afternoon at East Hall.

Banks County will play Lumpkin County 8:30 p.m. Friday in the 7-AAA semifinals.

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