FAYETTEVILLE — North Pitt’s Lady Panthers put the first nail in East Bladen’s season-ending coffin with a 14-2 run through the first quarter Saturday in the Class 2-A Eastern Regional finals at the Crown Arena, then put the final nail in with emphasis during a 19-point fourth quarter to take a 55-37 win.
The loss brings to an end a 31-1 season for the Lady Eagles, as well as a career for a group of seniors who helped East Bladen compile a 102-11 record over their four years. It also overshadows a double-double by Lacey Suggs, who scored a game-high 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in her high-school finale.
North Pitt improves to 29-1 with its 19th straight win and will play for the Class 2-A state championship on Saturday in Chapel Hill.
“We kind of deflated when they went up by 13 (in the fourth quarter),” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said. “But we did everything we could do. It just wasn’t our day.”
North Pitt opened the game with a 10-0 spurt over the first 5 minutes of the game. Christiana Cromartie stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws at the 2:42 mark, but the Lady Panthers finished the first quarter with a 4-0 spurt and extended the run t0 8-0 when they scored the second quarter’s first two basket for an 18-2 lead.
The Lady Eagles showed some life by going on a 7-0 burst behind two free throws and a three-pointer by Suggs and a pair of free throws by Cromartie that cut the deficit to 18-9. North Pitt hit a bucket, but Suggs hit three baskets during a 6-4 run to finish the half with East Bladen trailing, 24-15.
“It didn’t surprise me (getting down early) because we knew we’d been down before and come back,” Evers said. “But I told them (on Friday) that we couldn’t do that against this team.”
The second half opened with the Lady Eagles putting together a 6-2 run behind Abby Ward’s two straight three-pointers. After North Pitt hit a bucket, Suggs and Ja’Tyra Moore-Peterson canned baskets to pull East Bladen to within 28-25 midway through the third quarter. But the Lady Panthers closed the period with an 8-2 run to take a 36-27 edge into the final frame.
North Pitt all but put the game away with a 7-0 burst to open the fourth quarter and take a 16-point advantage. Suggs hit a basket at the 5:09 point to end the Lady Panthers’ run, but North Pitt buried a three-pointer to open a 46-29 lead.
Cromartie drained a free throw, Suggs hit a free throw and then a basket to pull East Bladen to within 46-33, but the Lady Panthers put together a 9-0 run before East Bladen finished the game with baskets by Ashley Hardin and Shardajah Brown.
“I thought we could make a run in the third quarter, but we didn’t,” Evers said. “They are so long and quick, we couldn’t even press them.
“But I’m proud of my seniors and this team,” she added. “Going 31-1 isn’t easy to do. And a senior class that won 102 games and lost only 11 — not many teams can say that.”
In addition to Suggs’ double-double, the Lady Eagles got eight points from Abby Ward with two three-pointers; seven rebounds from Emily Scott; and seven rebounds from Moore-Peterson.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.