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Monday May 25th, 2015 1:40PM

8-AAAA championships: Lady War Eagles make history, clinch first region crown (VIDEO)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor


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SUGAR HILL -- Savanna Long chased down loose balls with reckless abandon; Maggee Wilson draped herself over opposing ball-handlers; Tyler Bennett charged from coast-to-coast... It takes something special to make history.

On Tuesday the Lady War Eagles got something special many times over from many different players, as they came from behind to defeat Eastside 51-50 in the Region 8-AAAA title game at Lanier High in Sugar Hill.

The thrilling victory -- sealed with Bennett's magical run and lay-up with 15 seconds remaining -- netted Chestatee's first ever region title and left coach Web Daniel almost speechless.

"I don't even know what happened those last few minutes! It was unbelievable," Lady War Eagles coach Web Daniel said, beaming. "We had so many players step up and come up with huge plays tonight. That's what it takes to win region."

The Lady War Eagles also set a new record for school wins on Tuesday at 24-4

Not too shabby for what might have been dubbed a "rebuilding season."

Just one starter returned for the Lady War Eagles this campaign, and while Bridgette Kelly is a special player, the senior guard hardly even played on Tuesday, hobbled by an injury that limited her to a few minutes and three points.

"It's incredible that we were able to win it without her; without Bridgette we're a different team," Daniel said. "But it didn't matter to the girls tonight. They kept working and did what they had to do."

What they did was fight and claw for everything, refusing to let Eastside pull away from a fast start and responding in the fourth quarter after seeing one charge rebuffed.

The Lady War Eagles fell behind 44-38 on Jam Smith's 3-pointer with 6:22 remaining but responded with a 3-pointer from Long and a three-point play from Bennett to pull within 45-44 with 5:07 left -- it was a nail-biter from there, as the foes traded leads five times inside the final three minutes.

The final exchange proved the most dramatic, however.

Smith, who scored a game-high 16 points, sank two free throws to give Eastside a 50-49 advantage with 26 seconds remaining -- only to watch Bennett take the inbounds pass, sprint the length of the floor and lay in what proved the winning basket with 18 seconds remaining.

Bennett finished the game with 10 points, while Long and Wilson each paced Chestatee with 12.

"Tyler's been spectacular all year, and she has that ability," Daniel said. "Maggee only came back to play this year. She hasn't played since she was a freshman (Wilson is now a senior)... We only brought back five points a game from last year. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and we go and do this."

Chestatee also sealed the contest with defense, forcing 31 turnovers from Eastside, including taking a crucial charge inside the final minute.

"We're the smallest team every night, but we play the best defense," Daniel said.

It was Eastside's trapping, full-court defense that took the early lead, getting the better of Chestatee and forcing five turnovers inside the first three minutes as Eastside raced to a 7-0 advantage.

The Lady War Eagles steadied themselves, however, and Kelly and Long each drained 3-pointers to get back into the contest, trailing just 9-7 after the first quarter.

Eastside grabbed the momentum again in the second quarter, Zaria Barton draining a 3-pointer to notch a 21-12 lead with 2:23 left in the half. But again Chestatee responded and, again, it was from the beyond the 3-point arc, as Kayla Watson and Long each knocked down treys to haul the Lady War Eagles within 26-23 at the half.

Chestatee's five 3-pointers helped make up for some spotty shooting from the free throw line, where the Lady War Eagles sank just 6 of 12 attempts in the first half.

Eastside tried to pull away again in the third quarter, dominating underneath to grab 15 rebounds in the quarter -- compared with two for Chestatee -- but Wilson and Long combined to haul the Lady War Eagles back from a 35-29 deficit, and Chestatee pulled within 41-38 early in the fourth quarter on Wilson's put-back.

It only set the stage for a thrilling finish.

Chestatee will host the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAAA, a team still to be determined, in the first round of the state tournament, beginning on Friday.
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