ELIZABETHTOWN — The Lady Eagles took their second step toward a Class 2-A state championship with a strong third quarter that led to a 71-43 second-round win over Southwest Edgecombe on Thursday.
East Bladen, seeded No. 1 in the tournament and ranked No. 1 in the state, improved to 29-0, while the No. 16 Lady Cougars finished the season at 12-12.
The lady Eagles welcomed back point guard Abby Ward, who had missed the opener on Tuesday with an illness, and got out to its usual quick start. With Lacey Suggs leading the way and Ward directing traffic outside, East Bladen outscored Southwest Edgecome by a 17-7 margin in the first quarter.
The Lady Cougars showed more life in the second stanza and stayed right with the home team throughout. The two teams knotted at 16-16 in the quarter, but East Bladen took a 33-23 lead into halftime.
Coach Patty Evers and her staff made a few key adjustments during intermission, and the results were clear from the start of the second half.
East Bladen’s defense went into lockdown mode, while the offense pushed the ball off turnovers and defensive stops — putting 24 points on the board in the third quarter while holding the Lady Cougars to just six and opening a substantial 57-29 advantage.
Down the stretch, the Lady Eagles flew in substitutions throughout the final frame and was happy with a 14-14 knot in the quarter.
“Abby came back in full force and didn’t miss a beat,” Evers said. “I’m so proud of my girls, and Lacey was great from the free throw line.
“It was not really a good first half, but we came out (in the second half) moving our feet on defense,” she added.
Suggs led a trio of East Bladen players in double figures with 33 points, while Christiana Cromartie had 10 points and Ward added 10 points. Ja’Tyra Moore-Peterson scored eight points and Ashley Hardin had six points.