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By John Clark

SILER CITY — Junior Iveonna “NeNe” Ward scored 8 of No. 12 seed East Bladen’s final 9 points and rallied the Lady Eagles to a 52-50 victory over No. 5 seed Chatham Charter Friday night in the 2nd round of the NCHSAA Class 1A Girls Basketball Playoffs.

Coach Patty Evers’ Lady Eagles (23-4) will advance to play No. 4 seed Vance Charter (21-2) in Henderson Tuesday night. Vance Charter defeated No. 13 seed Northside-Pinetown 76-70 Friday night. Chatham Charter concluded their season with a 24-3 record.

East Bladen junior Laila Smith fouled out with 4:18 remaining on Hannah Headen’s scoring drive that edged the Lady Knights ahead 44-43. Ward immediately answered with a 3-pointer that vaulted the Lady Eagles back on top. Headen drove for another basket, but Ward darted down the baseline for a lay-up and a 48-46 lead at the 2:33 mark.

Headen made a free throw then flipped in a 4-footer for a 49-48 Chatham lead, but Ward tossed in a 6-footer with 38 seconds left for a 50-49 East edge. East sophomore Niyah Wooten grabbed a key rebound of a Lady Knight miss, and Ward padded the Lady Eagle lead to 51-49 with a free throw.

After Headen made 1 of 2 foul shots to whittle the margin to 51-50, Wooten rebounded the Headen miss, and sophomore Cabria Baldwin tacked on a free throw with a second remaining.

Ward finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Laila Smith scored 21 points before exiting via fouls and added 8 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocked shots. Wooten snared 7 rebounds. Sophomore Ariel Cromartie tallied 4 points and 6 rebounds. Baldwin contributed 4 rebounds and 2 steals, and senior Zoe Smith chipped in with 3 steals and 3 rebounds.

Headen led the Lady Knights with 21 points, and senior Meah Brooks followed with 20 points. Delana Loflin netted 6 points.

Follow shots by Ward and Wooten plus a Ward deflection that resulted in a Laila Smith steal and lay-up kept East even early. Loflin’s 3-point shot and a Brooks follow sparked Chatham to a 12-6 lead, but Ward buried a 3-ball then stole the ball and dashed for a lay-up to trim the margin to 12-11. A pair of Brooks baskets stretched the Chatham lead to 17-11.

Laila Smith sank a free throw and a baseline jumper, turned a Cromartie assist into a lay-up and nailed a 17-footer. Ward popped in a 15-footer and an 8-footer that edged East in front 22-21. Brooks powered in a pair of buckets, but Laila Smith spun through traffic and threw in a 6-footer, and a Cromartie follow shot pulled the Lady Eagles to within 27-26 at halftime.

Ward swished a 12-footer for a 28-27 East lead, but a Brooks’ elbow jumper and 2 Loflin free throws put Chatham up 31-28. Laila Smith responded with a lay-up off a Ward assist, stole the ball and raced for a lay-up, delivered an assist to Zoe Smith for a lay-up and canned 2 free throws for a 36-31 East lead.

Then came the highlight play of the game: Laila Smith stumbled across the left elbow and while falling heaved a 13-footer that hit rim, backboard then dropped in as she sprawled to the floor. Zoe Smith cashed in a free throw, and Cromartie beat the quarter buzzer with a runner that kept East up 41-37.

Laila Smith converted a Baldwin steal into a lay-up and a 43-40 lead before baskets by Brooks and Headen rallied the Lady Knights in front 44-43.

East Bladen              11  15  15   11 — 52
Chatham Charter  17  10  10  13 — 50

East Bladen (52) — Iveonna “NeNe” Ward 21, Ariel Cromartie 4, Cabria Baldwin 1, Tatum Allen, Zoe Smith 3, Laila Smith 21, Niyah Wooten 2.

Chatham Charter (50) — Hannah Headen 21, Cassie McKeithan 3, Delana Loflin 6, Kynzie Jordan, Skyler Lynn, Meah Brooks 20.

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