Jeff Steele’s return to Hall County checked every box of a typical Steele-run team.
Strong post presence setting the tone? Check.
Sharp-shooters stretching the floor and creating havoc from distance? Check.
Depth players icing a victory late? Check.
Center Brandon Zarate led all scorers with 36 points to boost Lumpkin County to a 76-56 win over West Hall (4-5, 1-2 Region 7-AAA) Tuesday night in Oakwood. It was Steele’s first return to a Hall County court since he left Johnson High after the 2015 season.
“I’m just glad we came out on the solid end,” said Steele. “(West Hall) had a solid plan for us, but the big boy stepped up tonight.”
Zarate, a 6-foot-4 senior, imposed his strength under the basket early and often, racking up 24 points in the first half to help the visiting Indians (9-1, 2-1) open up a 42-26 halftime lead.
Steele squared off against one of his former assistants Zac Swansey, who took charge of the Spartans this spring after working under Steele at Johnson for three years. Under their guidance, Johnson achieved a 29-1 record and a state quarterfinal appearance in 2014/15.
Steele’s impact on Lumpkin County has already been felt: The Indians earned just nine wins in all of last season.
“I’ve wanted to try to change the way these guys think,” said Steele. “Everything’s mental. They think they deserve to win.”
That much was clear from the start: Lumpkin opened up with two of their first five field goals coming from behind the arc, and then chipped in three consecutive layups to lead at the end of the first quarter by 11.
Junior Zack Pulley (19 points) knocked down three mid-range jumpers through the second quarter to go along with Zarate’s five shots under the net to lead by 16 at the break.
Four other shooters combined to score 17 points in the second half where the Indians never surrendered a double-digit lead.
The Spartans will now take a two-week break until the Lanierland tournament from Dec. 28-30.
“They’ve got a really good team over there,” said Swansey. “(Steele’s) got a lot to do with that. We’ve got to take our losses… We’ll get back to work on Thursday and get ready for Lanierland. “
Dylan Barron and Dylan Curry combined for 33 points to pace West Hall on home court. Bryson Jones sank his lone trey of the game that cut the Lumpkin lead to 14 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, but the optimism was short-lived.
Curry scored eight of the Spartans’ 12 fourth-quarter points, but the Lumpkin advantage was too much to chip away.
WEST HALL GIRLS 67, LUMPKIN COUNTY 30: The rough patch has finally ended for West Hall, according to coach Bryan Richerson.
Anna Mckendree and Avery Prather combined for 29 points to break a 3-game losing skid and secure the Lady Spartans’ first Region 7-AAA victory of the season Tuesday night in Oakwood.
“The last few games haven’t quite been up to par for us,” said Richerson. “I’ve asked a lot of these girls. It’s our first region win and the girls are resilient. They’re tough every day.”
West Hall (5-4, 1-2 in Region 7-AAA) shot out to a 16-0 lead midway through the opening quarter and led by as much as 40 heading into the fourth.
Lumpkin County (3-7, 1-2) had no scorers in double digits, but saw good performances by Clara White (8 points) and Hope Foster (7 points).
The Lady Indians have lost five of its last six games heading back to Dec. 1, but have already achieved more wins (3) than they did all of last season.
Leading 36-11 at the half, West Hall turned on the style in the third quarter.
With less than four minutes to play in the third, Prather (14 points) drained a 3-pointer, converted a layup on the next possession and then earned a trip to the free throw line on the ensuing Lumpkin inbounds.
Her layup made it 49-17 at the time, part of a 13-1 run for the Lady Spartans.
Mckendree had 15 points, Macy Passmore chipped in nine points and Meaghan Kelling scored eight.