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Thursday May 5th, 2016 3:20AM

Class AAA playoffs: East Hall rides momentum one step further, reaches Sweet 16

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
RABBITTOWN -- Justin Wheeler struggles to come up with any more superlatives for his Lady Vikings these days -- after what he's seen in the past few games, he's just about used them all.

Not that it matters. The East Hall girls basketball team is doing plenty of talking with its play on the court.

Ask North Murray, however, and the Lady Mountaineers might opt for words like, "smothering," "opportunistic," and "ruthless."

The Lady Vikings were each of those in turn on Friday, as they sprinted past North Murray in the second half of their Class AAA playoff battle for a 61-36 win in Valhalla.

The victory represented yet another impressive step East Hall has taken over the past few weeks, as the Lady Vikings (15-14) continued their hot form from the Region 7-AAA tournament to claim their fourth win in their past five contests. The outcome also pushed East Hall into the Class AAA second round where it will take on St. Pius on Monday in Atlanta.

The Lady Vikings would certainly love to replicate Friday's second half come next week.

Leading 24-20 at the half, East Hall stonewalled North Murray in the third quarter, allowing just one point while putting up 22 of its own to turn a close battle into a rout at 46-21. The Lady Vikings did it with offense and defense in the period, forcing 10 North Murray turnovers while finding their range from beyond the 3-point arc, as Jatasia Bailey and Chelsea Dale each sank treys to swing the game firmly into the Lady Vikings' favor.

"That third quarter summed up the past three-four games for us," Wheeler said. "The girls are really focusing on defense right now; they know that's what makes you go. When you play defense like that there's no pressure to score."

It was a defensive effort in the second quarter that sparked the Lady Vikings, as Eboni Burce picked the pocket of a North Murray guard to set up a Bailey basket that ended a 5:23 scoring drought. The play put East Hall ahead 21-20, which stretched to 24-20 on a Dale 3-pointer to close the first half.

It proved only the tip of the iceberg for the Lady Vikings, however, who went on to nail seven 3-pointers for the game -- including three each for Bailey and Dale. Bailey lit up North Murray for 14 of her game-high 23 points in the third quarter.

Ashlyn Ellison also finished with 18 points in the win, while Dale added 11.

Hannah Long and Amber Shock each scored nine to lead North Murray.

"We're not anywhere near where we were at the start of the season," Wheeler said. "I can't put into words how proud I am of this group. They're a great group and they keep me laughing and smiling, but they also know when to turn it up. And they play so hard, oh my God they play so hard.

"I don't know how much momentum we've built, but the girls believe in themselves and they get themselves ready for these games."

And now they have at least one more game for which to prep.
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