HOPE MILLS – A 17-0 third-quarter blitz rallied East Bladen to a 55-40 non-conference victory over Gray’s Creek in the opening round of the Cumberland County Women’s Holiday Classic.
Lady Eagle sophmore Mya McDonald drained a 3-point shot to tie the game 21-21 42 seconds after halftime, but Gray’s Creek star Ni’Jaa Wells scored twice inside as the Lady Bears went up 27-21.
Senior Patience Ward turned a steal into a lay-up then converted a McDonald assist into another lay-up. Sophmore Alexus Mitchell canned a baseline jumper then buried a 3-point shot to vault the Lady Eagles in front 30-27.
Mitchell stole the ball and raced for a lay-up, and McDonald dropped in a lay-up off of a Ward pass. Ward muscled in a rebound, and junior Katie Evans sank 2 free throws as the East Bladen lead grew to 38-27. Gray’s Creek’s Morgan Brady halted the run with a 3-point basket.
“I think they got tired,” said Lady Eagle Coach Patty Evers of the Lady Bears. “We ran them pretty hard and kept the pressure on. Mya and Alexus carried the load for us during that run.”
Rebound baskets by Lady Bears’ Amaya Bond and Savannah Lindsey sliced the East lead to 38-34, but senior Lorna Mendell powered in a lay-up off of a feed from Ward, and Evans cashed in 2 free throws. Another Ward assist resulted in a McDonald lay-up.
McDonald bombed in a 3-point shot then found Ward inside for a lay-up. McDonald and junior Sara Gargala hit free throws, and Mitchell netted 4 straight foul shots to push the East lead to 55-37.
McDonald filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 7 steals and 4 assists. Mitchell finished with 13 points and 4 steals, and Ward racked up 12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 assists despite missing 4 minutes of the first half due to foul trouble.
“Lorna played her best game,” said Evers. “She had to shutdown #34 (Wells) who is a great player and she did a good job. Katie made some big free throws for us in the second half.”
Mendell totaled 5 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, while limiting Wells to 8 points and 11 rebounds. Evans hit 4 free throws and contributed 5 rebounds and 3 steals.
Senior Madeleine Smith connected on a trio of 3-point shots in the second quarter and led Gray’s Creek with 12 points. Brady scored 8 points.
The two teams combined for 33 first-half turnovers – 17 by Gray’s Creek. “We played our worst half of the season in the first half,” said Coach Evers. “We turned the ball over and couldn’t get shots.”
Ward flipped in a turn-around and a follow shot, and Mitchell pumped in a 10-footer as the Lady Eagles grabbed an early 6-2 lead, but a 5 minute East Bladen scoring drought helped Gray’s Creek forge a 9-6 lead at the quarter break.
McDonald knotted the score 9-9 with a 3-point bomb, but a pair of Smith 3-balls plus a free throw pushed the Lady Bears ahead 16-10. McDonald answered with 2 foul shots and a follow shot, and Mendell knocked in a baseline 6-footer to close the gap to 18-16.
Another Smith 3-pointer upped the count to 21-16, but McDonald sprinted end-to-end for a lay-up and a 21-18 halftime margin.
The Lady Eagles remain unbeaten at 9-0 and will face Union Pines in Friday’s 7 p.m. tournament semi-final. Union Pines advanced with a 58-34 victory over Cape Fear.
East Bladen 6 12 20 17 – 55
Gray’s Creek 9 12 9 10 – 40
EAST BLADEN (55) – Katie Evans 4, Lily Lin, Mya McDonald 20, Alexus Mitchell 13, AnnaGrey Heustess, Abbie Cross, Maegan Burney, Patience Ward 12, Sara Gargala 1, Lorna Mendell 5.
GRAY’S CREEK (40) – Madeleine Smith 12, Savannah Lindsey 3, Morgan Brady 8, Cheyenne Wyatt, Desire Owens 3, Tishera Owens 4, Kiara Herring, Ni’Jaa Wells 8, Amaya Bond 2.