BUFORD -- Even when his team started 0-5 on the season, even when it was sitting at 10-12 and playing on a downward trend heading toward the playoffs, first-year East Hall girls coach Justin Wheeler never lost faith.
His Lady Vikings proved to him Monday night that it was not in vain.
East Hall used a bulldog-like defense and bombed away from 3-point range in taking a dominating 73-49 win over North Hall in the Region 7-AAA semifinals at the Buford gym.
The Lady Vikings (14-13) will take on Buford Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the finals. The Lady Wolves beat the Lady Tigers 47-40 in the other semifinal Monday.
Wheeler got a little choked-up when asked what it meant to him and his team to advance to the finals after a roller-coaster season.
"It means a lot," he said before pausing for several moments. "As a team we always believed. The girls put it all together (tonight). It's a great feeling to get to the finals."
While Chelsea Dale displayed her 3-point shooting ability draining six treys as part of her game-high 22 points, it was Ashlyn Ellison that set the tone on both ends of the court for the Lady Vikings.
The sophomore point guard finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and six steals and appeared to be in multiple places at once.
"As a team we felt ready to play," Ellison said. "I just tried to do whatever I could to help us win. I thought it was our defense that was the difference."
Ellison's effort was not lost on Wheeler.
"This is probably the first game where Ashlyn played to the level I felt she could get too," he said. "She played a great game on both ends. It's been building and tonight she showed her real potential. It was fun to watch."
East Hall forced 21 North Hall turnovers and held the Lady Trojans to just 1-for-15 from 3-point range. The Lady Vikings were able to build their lead with a 10-2 run in the first half to erase the final North Hall lead (17-16) and then opened the second half with a 10-4 run to pull away for a 45-29 lead following the fifth of Dale's 3-pointers.
North Hall (18-9) got as close as 60-48 midway through the fourth quarter but the Lady Vikings closed out the game with a 13-1 run.
Both teams started slow with more turnovers (7) than combined points (6) over the first three minutes. North Hall opened the scoring on a basket by Kensi Gillespie but then East Hall reeled off six straight points, capped by a pair of free throws from Jatasia Bailey.
The Lady Trojans would storm back with a 7-2 run for 9-8 lead but Bailey would hit the first 3-pointer of the game for East Hall as the quarter closed to give the Lady Vikings an 11-8 lead.
The teams would trade the lead three times in the first three minutes of the second quarter with North Hall taking a 17-16 on two Gillespie free throws with 4:36 left in the half. The Lady Trojans, however, would never lead again.
East Hall would catch fire the rest of the half. After missing their first seven 3-pointers, the Lady Vikings would hit four treys in a two minute span, including three by Dale, for a 29-21 lead. East Hall would finish 9-for-24 from 3-point range.
North Hall would trim the lead to 31-25 on a pair of Sydney Cleveland baskets but the Lady Vikings closed out the half as Bailey and Ellison traded assists and baskets for a 35-25 halftime lead.
Bailey finished with 21 points, five rebounds, and three assists for East Hall. Jenny Edwards added 19 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Vikings.
Sydney Cleveland paced North Hall with 14 points. Gillespie and Sadie Cleveland each had nine points for the Lady Trojans.
North Hall will play Dawson County at 4 p.m. in the third-place game at Buford.
BUFORD GIRLS 47,
DAWSON COUNTY 40
Buford opened the game with an 8-0 run and then held off off a furious fourth quarter rally to advance to the Region 7-AAA finals.
The Lady Wolves (24-2) would lead just 14-8 after the first quarter but Bree Horrocks helped Buford run out to a 30-18 halftime lead. Neither team could do much in the third quarter scoring just a combined nine points as the Lady Wolves took a 35-22 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Tigers (17-9) chipped away and a Karlie Bearden 3-pointer pulled them within 39-32 with 4:10 left. A Sheyenne Seabolt basket got them within 40-34 with 1:31 left but Camille Anderson would hit four free throws and Horrocks two for a 46-34 lead with 27 seconds left.
Dawson County's Ashley Parker would hit a 3-pointer and Jordan Moore would get fouled on the play giving the Lady Tigers a rare five-point possession to trail just 46-40 with 19 seconds left. But they could get no closer.
Anderson finished with 16 points, nine in the second half, to pace Buford. Horrocks added 15 points for the Lady Wolves.
Parker had 13 points, seven in the fourth quarter, to lead Dawson County. Seabolt added 12 points and Bearden nine points for the Lady Tigers.