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ELIZABETHTOWN – Senior Patience Ward recorded a triple-double Tuesday night, but East Bladen needed 2 late free throws from sophomore Alexus Mitchell to secure a 60-58 victory over Clinton in the opening round of the NCHSAA Class 2A Girls Basketball Playoffs.

Sophmore Mya McDonald’s old-fashioned 3-point play gave the Lady Eagles a 56-41 lead with 4:28 remaining, but sophomore Khaliah Chestnutt and junior Isa Banks keyed a 15-2 Clinton rally that sliced the East lead to 58-56 with 34 seconds left.

“We got rattled and had trouble getting the ball in-bounds,” said East Bladen Coach Patty Evers. “We only have Patience and Lorna (Mendell) who have much playoff experience. Give Clinton credit; they played really good defense.”

Mitchell went to the line with 28 seconds on the clock and knocked down the deciding free throws. Clinton junior NaKeviah Evans beat the buzzer with a leaner for the final margin.

Until the late Clinton run, the story of the game was Ward who piled up 31 points, 14 rebounds and 10 steals. She just missed a first-half double-double with 19 points and 9 rebounds.

“I am proud of Patience,” said Coach Evers. “She has been doing that all year for us. Lorna had a big game down low for us, too.” Mendell finished with 5 points and 11 rebounds. Mitchell contributed 11 points and 4 rebounds, and McDonald totaled 9 points and 9 rebounds.

Chestnutt scored 10 of her team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter. Junior Isa Banks poured in 16 of her 18 points in the second half and grabbed 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double. Evans rang up 13 of her 17 points in the first half.

Ward scored twice inside, hit a free throw then delivered a pass to freshman AnnaGrey Heustess for a lay-up, but Clinton built an early 13-7 lead behind 10 points from Chestnutt.

Ward rallied the Lady Eagles with a pair of follow shots then hurled in a turn-around while falling down. McDonald’s driving lay-up knotted the score 15-15 at the quarter break.

Another turn-around 8-footer and a follow shot by Ward, and a Mitchell lay-up off of a McDonald assist pushed East ahead 21-16, but a 3-pointer and a lay-up by Evans pulled Clinton even.

Mendell and Heustess powered in rebound baskets, and Ward flipped in a floater for a 27-21 Lady Eagle lead. An Evans 3-ball, and a Chestnutt hoop trimmed the margin to 27-26. Ward pulled up for an 8-footer, and McDonald stole the ball and raced for a lay-up and a 31-26 lead. Banks’ first basket of the game made it 31-28 at halftime.

Ward started the second half with a rebound basket, and Mitchell drilled in a corner 3-ball for a 36-29 lead. Ward and Mitchell dropped in transition lay-ups, Ward scored again from the lane then sank 2 free throws. A Ward feed resulted in a Mendell lay-up and a 47-36 lead at the quarter break.

After a Banks 3-ball began the final period, McDonald drove for a lay-up, Ward turned a steal into a lay-up and Mitchell banked in a 4-footer for a 53-39 Lady Eagle lead.

“After last year (a late one-point loss to High Point Andrews), it was great to get a home playoff win for our seniors,” said Evers. “Katie Evans did a great job defensively for us in the box-and-one we played on Banks.”

The Lady Eagles, now 22-4, will travel to top-seeded Farmville Central Thursday night.

Clinton          15  13    8  22 – 58
East Bladen  15  16  16  13 – 60

CLINTON (58) – DeKyla Moore, Zaniah Faison, Isa Banks 18, Khaliah Chestnutt 23, NaKeviah Evans 17, Brittany Blackburn.

EAST BLADEN (60) – Katie Evans, Mya McDonald 9, Alexus Mitchell 11, AnnaGrey Heustess 4, Abbie Cross, Maegan Burney, Patience Ward 31, Sara Gargala, Lorna Mendell 5.

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