ELIZABETHTOWN — The Lady Eagles rallied back from their largest deficit in school history on Friday to beat visiting Southern Vance, 65-53, in the East Sectional finals.
The win improves East Bladen to 28-1 and sends them to the Crown Arena in Fayetteville on Wednesday for the East Region semifinals.
The first quarter was a nightmare for the Lady Eagles, but it was hardly anything Southern Vance did. Instead, East Bladen was its own worst enemy, committing nine turnovers and offering up a porous defense that allowed the Lady Raiders to make runs of 6-2 to start the game and 15-3 to finish the quarter and take a 22-5 lead.
East Bladen never got a chance to set up its vaunted pressure defense, since an early basket by Lacey Suggs and a three-pointer by Asha Graham were the period’s only home points.
Things began to turn around in the second quarter. After Southern Vance hit a bucket to open the period and extend the lead to 24-5, Suggs hits two baskets and two free throws, and Graham buried another three-pointer to cut the deficit to 24-14. The Lady Raiders traded four points with East Bladen, as Imani Turner-Dobson dropped in a pair of bunnies, and after Southern Vance nailed another basket, Abby Ward canned a free throw and Suggs hit two before East Bladen’s eighth and ninth turnovers of the second quarter led to two quick baskets by the Lady Raiders that ended the half with the visitors up 34-21.
“We gave them 34 points that half,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said. “Every one of them — (all those) turnovers.”
It was the same players, but a different East Bladen team that took the court for the second half. Not only did the Lady Eagles explode for 26 points in the third quarter, but they played a stifling defense that gave up just six points.
Graham hit the third quarter’s first basket, which was matched by Southern Vance. But the Lady Eagles went on a 6-0 spurt that featured baskets by Suggs, Turner-Dobson and Graham, cutting the margin to 36-29. After another bucket by the Lady Raiders, East Bladen went on an 8-0 run thanks to a basket by Abbey Norris and two straight three-pointers by Graham that cut the deficit to 38-37. After a basket by the visitors, Graham canned a free throw and Norris hit a basket that knotted the game at 40-40, starting a 10-0 run that finished with Suggs tickling the twine for two baskets and a free throw, and a free throw from Ward to take a 47-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
despite five early points by Suggs, Southern Vance inched closer over the first half of the fourth quarter with a 10-7 spurt. But the Lady Eagles closed out the game and the win with an 11-3 run that included nine free throws.
After 18 turnovers in the first half, East Bladen had just six in the second half.
“They continue to absolutely amaze us,” Evers said. “We knew these girls had something in them, and Asha really stepped up and hit some big threes.
“This team just doesn’t want to lose,” she added. “I’ve been here 13 years, and we’ve never had a 19-point comeback.”
Suggs led the Lady Eagles with 27 points that included 11-of-13 at the line. Graham chipped in with 21 points behind four three-pointers, along with eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Turner-Dobson had 11 of East Bladen’s 42 rebounds, along with eight points. Ward had nine assists and five points, while Christiana Cromartie had eight rebounds and Norris contributed six rebounds and four points.