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ROCKY POINT — East Columbus fought off a 12-2 East Bladen closing run and won the Waccamaw Conference’s Girls Basketball Tournament Friday night 50-43 as the inside duo of sophomore Malia Graham and senior Chynna Patrick combined for 34 points.

East Bladen, now 21-4 and the Waccamaw regular season co-champion, is expected to receive a home game Tuesday night when the NCHSAA Class 1A Playoff brackets are released Saturday. East Columbus improved to 21-1 and is projected as the No. 2 seed in the East.

Malia Graham, 5-11 forward, rang up 22 points to lead the Lady Gators. Six-foot Chynna Patrick muscled in 12 points, and junior Malayah Hines finished with 10 points.

The Lady Gators began the final period with a 13-5 run to open up a 48-31 lead as Patrick dropped in 3 baskets and Graham added 5 points. Junior Iveonna “NeNe” Ward nailed a 3-point shot, and senior Zoe Smith put back a rebound for East.

Junior Laila Smith rallied the Lady Eagles by drilling in a long 3-pointer from the right wing then stealing the ball and racing for a lay-up. Patrick banged in a Lady Gator basket, but Ward flipped in a runner for East Bladen.

Laila Smith popped in runners from the lane then powered in a follow shot to whittle the lead to 50-42 with 1:05 left. Ward’s free throw with 24 seconds left sliced the margin to 50-43.

Laila Smith poured in 20 of her game-high 27 points for the Lady Eagles in the 2nd half and added 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Coach Patty Evers shared that Laila will be recognized with a game ball at the end of Tuesday’s playoff game for scoring over 1,000 points. Ward tallied 11 points, 3 steals and 3 rebounds. Sophomore Niyah Wooten grabbed 7 rebounds.

Ward and Laila Smith nailed 3-point shots to give East Bladen a quick 6-2 lead, but Hines drove for a pair of lay-ups that tied the game. Laila Smith banked in a short jumper that gave her 1,001 points in her Lady Eagle career, but senior Kaley Mitchell threw in a 3-pointer, and Patrick netted a lay-up for an 11-8 Lady Gator lead.

A pair of Malia Graham baskets and a free throw sparked East Columbus to an 18-10 lead. Laila Smith drove for an East Bladen lay-up, and sophomore Ariel Cromartie drained a 3-point shot to trim the margin to 18-13. Malia Graham pounded in a rebound basket to give East Columbus a 21-13 halftime lead.

Laila Smith sank 5 of 6 free throws in the 3rd quarter, put back a rebound and popped in a pair of jumpers from the lane, but 4 points from Malia Graham and 2 lay-ups and a free throw by Hines kept East Columbus ahead 35-26 at the quarter break.

East Bladen          8    5  13  17 — 43
East Columbus  11  10  14  15 — 50

East Bladen (43) – Iveonna “NeNe” Ward 11, Nevaeh Brown, Aaliyah Monroe, Ariel Cromartie 3, Cabria Baldwin, Zoe Smith 2, Taylor Dowless, Laila Smith 27, Niyah Wooten.

East Columbus (50) – Malayah Hines 10, Rylie Graham, Malia Graham 22, Chynna Patrick 12, Kaley Mitchell 5, Destiny Mitchell 1, Shamiah Johnson.

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