ELIZABETHTOWN — East Bladen, fueled by Patience Ward’s game-high 26 points, survived 19 turnovers in the first half and an off shooting night by Ja’Tyra Moore-Peterson to knock off visiting West Columbus in the championship game of the Three Rivers Conference girls basketball tournament.
The win improved the Lady Eagles to 25-1 this season.
Neither team lit up the scoreboard in the first quarter, and East Bladen could hit just one outside shot — a three-pointer by Ashley Hardin 6:13 into the game. But the Lady Eagles outscored the Lady Vikings 11-7 in the period behind five points from Ward.
The lead was stretched to 15-7 on baskets by Shardajah Brown and Ward and, after a bucket by West Columbus, Brown and Ward sank baskets again for a 19-9 edge. The Lady Vikings went on a small 4-2 spurt before Hardin drained her second three-pointer for East Bladen, and West Columbus finished the first half with a 4-0 run to close the gap to 24-17.
Hardin’s pair of three-pointers were the Lady Eagles’ only outside baskets of the half.
“Those shots were big for us,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said at halftime. “And Shardajah also hit a couple of big baskets.”
Ward opened the second half with a pair of buckets to push the Lady Eagles’ lead to 28-17 and the East Bladen defense held the Lady Vikings scoreless over the first 2:35 of the third quarter. After West Columbus hit a basket, the Lady Eagles got a three-pointer from Erica McKoy and a basket by Brown as part of a 9-2 run.
The Lady Vikings hit two straight buckets, Ward answered with one of her numerous fast-break baskets and, after two free throws by the visitors, East Bladen finished the third quarter with a 6-0 run on baskets from Izzy Smith, Anna Kate White and Ward to carry a 41-25 advantage into the fourth frame.
West Columbus scored the first three points of the quarter, but the Lady Eagles went on a 17-3 run through a majority of the period to seal the win. Ward benefited from a trio of fast-break baskets and both McKoy and Brown canned a pair of baskets during the spurt.
West Columbus picked up two buckets and a three-pointer to end the game.
“I was really happy with how we came out of the locker room for the second half,” Evers said. “Patience got her hands on a lot of balls defensively, and both Ashley and Shar played very well.
“I think we battled for rebounds, especially in the second half,” she added.
Along with her 26 points, Ward recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds; McKoy scored 10 points; Brown scored 10 points with eight rebounds; Hardin had the pair of three-pointers along with six steals. Moore-Peterson, who hit only two free throws in the game, contributed in other important ways with nine assists and five steals.
“That shows it’s going to take all five going forward,” Evers said. “We don’t ever want to rely on just one person.”
East Bladen now awaits word from the NCHSAA on Saturday for its Class 2-A state playoff opponent next week.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.