ATLANTA -- After a season of tremendous growth, the East Hall girls basketball team has plenty of reason for hope as it looks toward the future.
That didn't make Monday any easier, however.
"We wanted to win this year," said Lady Vikings coach Justin Wheeler, whose team was knocked from the state playoffs via a 55-39 loss at defending Class AAA champion St. Pius in Atlanta.
"We have a young team, and this gives me a lot of hope, but we wanted to do it this year for our seniors. They came out and played hard for us this year, and we appreciate everything they gave us."
East Hall (15-15) never yielded after marching on to the second round of the playoffs in Wheeler's first season, but the Lady Vikings could not stop the offensive onslaught of St. Pius' Asia Durr and Jasmine Carter, who accounted for 40 of the Lady Golden Lions' points.
"All week we preached to minimize the damage they could do, and we worked hard at that... And Durr didn't go off on us, but she still scored her average -- 24 points," Wheeler said.
Durr helped put the Lady Vikings in a 17-5 hole in the first quarter, as the highly-touted guard scored 10 points over the first eight minutes.
"We were a little bit erratic there (in the first quarter); our eyes got a little big at the situation," Wheeler said. "We made some turnovers we haven't been making, but we also played a different team to what we have been playing tonight. They baited us into some of those turnovers."
East Hall finished the night with 20 turnovers -- yet the Lady Vikings also notched 17 takeaways from St. Pius, as they bounced back from the slow start. In fact, the Lady Golden Lions out-scored East Hall just 38-33 over the next three quarters, yet it was enough to move back into the quarterfinals.
East Hall responded via the 3-point shot, starting in the second quarter, as Jatasia Bailey and Chelsea Dale each buried treys to pull within 19-11 early in the period. But Carter -- who scored 12 of her 16 points in the first half -- responded with a 3-pointer and St. Pius led 25-14 at the interval.
Dale gave the Lady Vikings hope with another 3-pointer at the start of the third quarter, only to watch the hosts respond with a 9-1 run -- capped by Durr's three-point play that gave St. Pius all the momentum it would need and a 35-19 advantage with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
Dale finished with 11 points to pace the Lady Vikings, while Bailey added nine and Jenny Edwards eight.
East Hall finished the game with eight made 3-pointers.
The loss brought the Lady Vikings season to a close, though a young team that will return a number of standouts, including Bailey, Dale, Edwards and starting point guard Ashlyn Ellison will have plenty to build on after closing strong to claim the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAA.
"We'll still be young next season, and we have some good young players coming up," Wheeler said. "We will miss our seniors, Eboni Burce, Erika Lopez and Natalie Winters. But the cycle will keep going."