ELIZABETHTOWN — The Lady Eagles of East Bladen offered up puzzled that the visiting Lady Knights couldn’t solve — particularly a pressure defense and inside presence — and knocked off West Bladen in the Four County Conference regular-season finale on Monday, 61-31.
The win improves East Bladen to 22-1 overall and 13-1 in the conference, tying them with Clinton for the conference title. West Bladen falls to 12-9 overall and 7-7 in the conference.
Neither team could get its offense out of neutral to start the game. West Bladen got the first points when Breanna Jackson sank a basket at the 3:35 mark. That woke up the Lady Eagles, who ran off a 9-0 spurt fueled by Asha Graham’s three-pointer at the 3:20 mark and followed by a layup from Abby Ward off an inbounds steal, two free throws by Abbey Norris and a basket by Lacey Suggs.
The Lady Knights answered with a 4-0 spurt on two free throws and a basket by Courtney Thompson, but East Bladen finished the quarter with another three-pointer by Graham and a free throw by Norris to take a 13-6 lead into the second quarter.
Ward opened the stanza with a basket, answered by a basket from Taylor Stephens before the Lady Eagles got a basket from Christiana Cromartie and yet another three-pointer from Graham to open a 20-8 lead. Stephens sank a free throw for the visitors, but East Bladen went on an 8-0 run behind two baskets from Ward along with a bucket and two free throws by Suggs.
West Bladen managed to finish the half on a 5-2 run — all five points from Thompson — but trailed by a 30-14 margin.
“We’ve got to play a lot better defense and find ways to get Courtney (Thompson) free inside,” said West Bladen coach Pam Stephens at halftime. “Their pressure seems to be bothering us a lot and we can’t keep turning the ball over.”
Norris opened the second half with a basket for the Lady Eagles and Jackson answered for West Bladen. But Cromartie sank two straight buckets for East Bladen before the lady Knights went on a 5-0 spurt when Stephens buried a pair of baskets and Miriam Mendoza hit a free throw. But that was all West Bladen could muster in the third quarter, as the lady Eagles finished the quarter with a 13-0 run on a pair of baskets by Suggs, a basket by Graham, four free throws by Ward and two free throws by Graham to extend the lead to 49-21.
The two teams traded basket in the early going of the fourth quarter — Thompson hit for West, Cromartie answered for East; Stephens hit for West, Norris answered for East. Thompson then earned an old-fashioned three-point play for the Lady Knights, but the Lady Eagles came right back with a three-point play by Suggs and a basket by Norris for a 58-28 advantage.
In the closing minutes of the game, Stephens hit a free throw for West Bladen, Graham got a free throw and Imani Turner-Dobson hit a basket, and Laikyn Pait scored a bucket to end the game.
“Overall, I thought we played well,” said East Bladen coach Patty Evers. “We started out a little slow, but got things going.
“You see that banner out there (in the gym)?” she added. “We haven’t had a conference championship in two years, and that was one of our goals this season, and I’m happy for this team.”
The Lady Eagles had three players score in double figures, led by Graham and Suggs with 15 points each and Ward chipped in 12 points. Graham had three three-pointers and five steals; Ward added eight assists and five steals; Suggs had five steals; Cromartie had nine rebounds, eight points and five blocks; Norris had nine points and 13 rebounds; and Turner-Dobson had five blocks.
For West Bladen, Thompson had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Stephens had 10 points and four assists. Jackson also pulled down 11 rebounds.