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By John Clark

ROCKY POINT — Juniors Laila Smith and Iveonna “NeNe” Ward combined for 42 points, 17 rebounds and 9 steals and sparked several key spurts that carried East Bladen to a 74-56 victory over Pender in the Waccamaw Conference Girls Basketball Tournament semifinals Thursday night.

Coach Patty Evers’ Lady Eagles improved to 21-3 and will play East Columbus (20-1) in the Waccamaw championship game Friday at 6 p.m. at Heide Trask.

Laila Smith just missed a double-double with 25 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Ward came even closer to the double-double with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists. Sophomore Ariel Cromartie contributed 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Sophomore Cabria Baldwin drained a trio of 3-point shots for 9 points and had 4 rebounds. Sophomore Niyah Wooten grabbed 5 rebounds.

Ward darted for a lay-up off the opening tap, and Laila Smith put back a rebound then delivered an assist to Cromartie for a lay-up and a 6-0 lead. Ward stole the ball and dashed for a lay-up, Laila Smith popped in a 6-footer, and Nevaeh Brown flipped in a 4-footer for a 12-4 lead.

Pender’s Jamiah Johnson answered with a pair of baskets, but Baldwin swished a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 15-8 at the quarter break.

Baskets by Jamiah and Shamiah Johnson rallied Pender to within 15-12, but Laila Smith ignited an 11-0 East run with a lay-up. Ward sank 2 free throws, Laila Smith hit one, Wooten put back a rebound, Ward dropped in a lay-up and Laila Smith converted a Ward assist into a basket for a 26-12 Lady Eagle lead.

Ward sent an assist to Cromartie for a lay-up, Cromartie tacked on a free throw and freshman Aaliyah Monroe buried a 3-pointer to pad the East lead to 32-19 at halftime.

Ward nailed a corner 3-ball to start the 2nd half then sent an assist to Cromartie for a lay-up. Laila Smith cashed in 2 foul shots then stole the ball and raced for a lay-up and a 41-25 lead.

Pender’s Linde Cline scored the 1st 3 baskets of the half for the Lady Patriots then bombed in a pair of 3-pointers to trim the East lead to 41-33. Laila Smith responded with a pair of baskets and a free throw. Senior Zoe Smith netted a free throw, Ward threw in a lay-up, and Baldwin drilled in another 3-ball to push the lead to 52-39.

Cromartie drove for a 3-point play to begin the final quarter. Zoe Smith and Baldwin fired in 3-point baskets, Laila Smith raced to the rim for a trio of lay-ups and tacked on a free throw. Cromartie turned a steal into a lay-up as the lead grew to 70-48. Ward capped the Lady Eagle scoring with a pair of lay-ups.

Cline topped the Pender scoring with 18 points, and Jamiah Johnson followed with 16 points. Teammate Grace Bordeaux finished with 16 points, and Shamiah Johnson tallied 6 points.

Pender             8  11  20  17 — 56
East Bladen  15  17  20  22 — 74

Pender (56) — Olivia White, Jamiah Johnson 16, Shamiah Johnson 6, Kimora McAllister 2, Grace Bordeaux 11, Charleigh Rivenbark 3, Linde Cline 18, Jayda Tozour.

East Bladen (74) — Iveonna “NeNe” Ward 17, Nevaeh Brown 2, Aaliyah Monroe 3, Ariel Cromartie 12, Cabria Baldwin 9, Tyliah Freeman, Tatum Allen, Zoe Smith 4, Taylor Dowless, Laila Smith 25, Nia McKoy, Niyah Wooten 2.

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