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Girls Basketball: East Bladen 42, Clinton 38

Photos by Kenneth Armstrong

CLINTON – The shots weren’t falling. Drives to the basket were contested. And the defense couldn’t keep Clinton from shooting free throws.

But when it counted most, top-ranked East Bladen made the plays Tuesday night in beating the Dark Horses 42-38 in a Four County Conference girls basketball game. The Eagles improved to 9-0 in the conference and 19-0 overall. Clinton, ranked No. 10 in the latest NC Preps poll, fell to 6-2 and 14-4.

Lacey Suggs scored 17 points, including nine in the decisive fourth quarter, as East Bladen moved closer to winning another regular season conference championship.

Brielle Mitchell scored 17 points to lead Clinton, including making 11 of 20 free throws. Clinton made 16 of 33 from the line for the game. The Dark Horses continued to play without Duke recruit Mikayla Boykin, who tore her ACL more than a year ago.

“We were lucky to get that one,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said. “We knew what we were playing for and that was our goal coming in, the No. 1 seed.”

And for those folks who thought East Bladen needed a tight, tense, competitive game to prepare for the upcoming state playoffs after coasting past most opponents, consider mission accomplished.

“We needed that, absolutely,” Evers said. “It’s going to help us.”

After the teams played to a 14-14 tie at the end of the first quarter, Clinton’s Ashlyn Williams scored to open the second quarter. East Bladen didn’t take the lead until 3:24 remained in the third quarter when Abby Ward nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key that made it 27-25. Clinton led 29-28 at the end of the third quarter.

East Bladen took the lead for good on a 15-foot jumper by Christiana Cromartie with 6:26 left, then Suggs scored on a layup off a Ward steal that made it 34-31.

Clinton’s Mitchell made two free throws, but Miller Heustess countered with a jumper for the Eagles that made it 36-33 with 4:50 remaining.

After Mitchell missed a pair of free throws for Clinton, East Bladen opted to dribble time off the clock as the Dark Horses remained in a zone. Finally, after more than a minute, Suggs drove and scored that made it 38-33.

Clinton had a final push, though, using a free throw each from Kiera Mabry and Mitchell, along with a basket by Alex Canady that made it 38-37 with 44 seconds left.

After each team made a free throw that made it 39-38 with 22 seconds remaining, the deciding play came when Suggs and Ward stopped Mitchell driving to the basket, and Suggs came away with the ball. Suggs was fouled with 15 seconds left, made the first free throw and missed the second, but got her own rebound, and made two free throws with 10 seconds left to clinch it.

“It’s a little nerve wracking (to pull the ball out), but when you have ballhandlers like Lacey and Abby, and they’re pretty good free throw shooters, too, I trust that part of our game, letting them drive to the basket,” Evers said.

“I’m very proud of them. They didn’t quit. It’s one of the best groups that I’ve had in that they do not give up. I knew if we could get to the free throw line and, maybe, knock some of those down, we’d be alright, and that’s what did it for us.”

East Bladen is scheduled to play at Pender on Friday.

East Bladen (42) – Abby Ward 3, Lexie Mendell, Michelle Page, Shardajah Brown, Emily Scott 2, Lacey Suggs 17, Miller Heustess 6, Danielle McDowell, Christiana Cromartie 6, Ashley Hardin 2, Ja’Tyra Moore-Peterson 2.

Clinton (38) – Brielle Mitchell 17, Alex Canady 8, Tanaziah Chestnutt 5, Ashlyn Williams 2, Charica Joyner 3, Zoey Harris 2, Kiera Mabry 1.

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