02/25/2024
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By John Clark

BLADENBORO – For almost 29 minutes Tuesday night, West Bladen’s Lady Knights battled East Bladen on almost even terms, but juniors Iveonna “NeNe” Ward and Laila Smith sparked a 19-6 run that carried the Lady Eagles to a 58-44 non-conference girls’ basketball victory.

Junior Holland Davis banked in a 3-point shot, and junior Alina Chavez powered in a follow shot to pull the Lady Knights to within 36-35 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd period.

Laila Smith answered with a follow, and Ward darted to the rim for a lay-up that turned into a 3-point play. Laila Smith flipped in a lay-up that stretched the lead to 43-35, before West senior Mallory Bryan raced for a lay-up that trimmed the margin to 43-37 at the quarter break.

Lady Knight senior Kiera Lewis sank 2 free throws to whittle the lead to 43-39, but Laila Smith muscled in a short jumper. Sophomore Niyah Wooten dropped in a lay-up, and Ward stole the ball twice and pitched ahead twice to sophomore Ariel Cromartie for lay-ups.

A Chavez lay-up for West interrupted the run, but Cromartie scored another transition lay-up, and Laila Smith popped in another short jumper to grow the lead to 55-41.

Sophomore Kali Allen followed up her own miss, and Bryan hit a free throw for West, but Ward swished in 2 free throws, and Wooten hit 1 for East.

Ward headlined the Lady Eagle scoring with 18 points and 5 steals. Cromartie pumped in 16 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, and Laila Smith rang up 14 points and collected 8 rebounds. Wooten finished with 5 points.

Lewis led the Lady Knights with 14 points. Chavez pumped in 10 points, Davis tallied 6 points, and Allen and Bryan scored 5 points each. Bryan also contributed 4 steals and 4 rebounds.

“They have 2 tremendous players (Ward and Laila Smith). They can play with anybody in the state,” said West Coach Brian McCleney. “That is a program over there. People don’t realize what Patty (Coach Evers) has built and accomplished over the last 20 years. Nobody else has done that around here.”

McCleney continued, “Proud of my girls’ effort. We are so young and need more depth. We just ran out of gas.”

Ward scored off the opening tap, then nailed a 16-footer and a 3-point shot. Freshman Taylor Dowless and Wooten put back rebounds, and Laila Smith worked inside for a bucket as East built a 13-6 lead.

Chavez canned a free throw and netted a lay-up, and Kali Allen buried a 3-point shot for West.

Laila Smith started the 2nd period with a 6-footer, but Davis responded with a lay-up that resulted in a 3-point play to slice the margin to 15-9. Ward drove for a lay-up, but sophomore Natalee Sykes put back a rebound for West.

Cromartie drained a 3-point shot, but Sykes connected from the left corner to close the gap to 18-13. Ward floated in a 6-footer then turned a steal into a lay-up. Lewis drove for a lay-up and a 3-point play, but senior Zoe Smith drilled in a 3-pointer for East to pad the lead to 26-16.

Chavez tossed in 2 free throws for West, Lewis drove for a lay-up and Bryan pulled up for a 12-footer that closed the gap to 26-22. Wooten threw in a follow, but Lewis bombed in a 3-ball to cut the lead to 28-25 at halftime.

Cromartie hurled in a runner to begin the 2nd half, and Laila Smith pumped in a turn-around. Lewis banked in a 10-footer then converted a Chavez feed into a lay-up. Chavez converted a free throw to pull West to within 32-30.

Cromartie connected on a 3-point basket, then turned a Wooten steal into a lay-up and a 36-30 lead.

The Lady Eagles, now 2-0, will host Topsail Thursday night. West Bladen (0-2) will travel to Wilmington Hoggard Thursday night.

East Bladen  13  15  15  15 — 58
West Bladen  6  19  12    7 — 44

East Bladen (58) – Iveonna “NeNe” Ward 18, Nevaeh Brown, Aaliyah Monroe, Ariel Cromartie 16, Cabria Baldwin, Tatum Allen, Zoe Smith 3, Taylor Dowless 2, Laila Smith 14, Nia McKoy, Niyah Wooten 5.

West Bladen (44) – Mallory Bryan 5, Natalee Sykes 4, Tah’lela Bethea, Holland Davis 6, Kiera Lewis 14, Kali Allen 5, Alina Chavez 10.

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