SUPPLY — The Lady Eagles of East Bladen High cranked their offense up to high in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s Waccamaw Conference Tournament semifinal against West Bladen High, earning a 46-40 win in the season’s rubber game against the cross-county Lady Knights.
East Bladen improved to 21-5 and will now face off against conference champion Whiteville High on Friday at 6 p.m. at Brunswick Community College for the conference championship.
The Lady Knights fall to 19-6 and await their pairing for the state’s Class 2-A playoffs, and the thinking is that they could be playing Fairmont on Monday.
The two teams poked and prodded each other to a 6-6 knot midway through the first quarter before Iesha Swindell played thief and scored on a layup, Asha Graham buried a jumper and Lacey Suggs scored during a 6-2 East Bladen spurt that gave the Lady Eagles a 12-8 lead after the opening 8 minutes of play.
A trio of free throws to open the second quarter edged West Bladen to within 12-11, but East Bladen responded with an 8-3 run on three free throws by Suggs and a basket by Swindell to extend the lead to 19-14 by intermission.
The Lady Knights, however, made some crucial adjustments at halftime and came out on fire in the third quarter at both ends of the court. Courtney Thompson fueled a 12-2 run through the period by the Lady Knights with a pair of put-backs and six free throws, while the West Bladen defense caught the Lady Eagles flat and allowed only a pair of free throws by Natalie Hardin — vaulting the Lady Knights to a 26-21 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The moment the clock ticked off its first second of the final 8 minutes, East Bladen’s offense came alive.
Suggs took the Lady Eagles’ first shot and buried a three-pointer from the right side to move East Bladen to within 26-24. Abbey Walters canned a pair of free throws for West Bladen to extend the lead back to 28-24, but Suggs took the inbounds and raced straight to the basket for a lay-in that cut the East Bladen deficit to 28-26.
West Bladen got two more free throws from Walters before Suggs delivered another dagger for the Lady Eagles, this one a three-pointer from the left side that got East Bladen to within one at 30-29.
After a West Bladen miss, Alexus Smith sank a pair of free throws and added a layup to put the lady Eagles back on top at 33-30. Graham added two free throws to cap a 9-0 run by East Bladen for a 35-30 lead.
The Lady Knights answered with a 6-2 run sparked by a three-pointer by Haley Cox that edged West Bladen to within 37-36 with just over 1:30 left to play. The game turned into a free throw contest and East Bladen managed to hold a 43-37 edge as the clock ticked down to 35 seconds.
Thompson canned a rare three-pointer for the Lady Eagles with 15 seconds left in he game to nudge West Bladen to within 43-40, but Smith made a trio of free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.
“This was a very inconsistent game,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said. “We didn’t rebound well in the post during the first three quarters … I told them at the end of the third quarter to keep playing and do the things we had worked on and make their free throws.
“Lacey and Alexus stepped up huge in the fourth quarter and Asha hit some key free throws,” she added. “It helped, too, that the Bladen Journal headline said EPIC SWEEP (after the Lady Knights ended a 26-game losing streak to East Bladen the week before). The girls didn’t like that too much and it has been in the locker room all week.”
The two teams combined to hit 42-of-66 free throws in the game — East Bladen was 18-of-28 and West Bladen was 24-of-38. But through three quarters of play, the Lady Knights went to the line 28 times, compared to the Lady Eagles’ eight.
“We knew the game could go either way,” West Bladen coach Pam Stephens said. “We just never could get our offense in a good rhythm in the first half, and they played good halfcourt defense. Free throws kept us in the game.
“The offense woke up (in the second half) and we started taking the ball to the basket, which made a big difference,” she added. “But I’m impressed with Lacey Suggs … she really stepped up for them and hit some big shots late in the game.”
Suggs led the Lady Eagles with 18 points and also pulled down eight rebounds. Swindell contributed 11 rebounds for East Bladen and Smith scored 11 points.
Thompson carried the load of a double-double for the Lady Knights, scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Cox added 12 points for the Lady Knights.