Tuesday April 23rd, 2024 10:09AM

Girls basketball playoffs: Chestatee rallies past Heritage, into Elite 8

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Chestatee will be hobnobbing with the Elite 8 in Class 4A for a second consecutive season.

It didn’t come easy, though, as the Lady War Eagles had to rally from 11 down in the first quarter to pull out a 61-55 win over Heritage-Catoosa Friday in the second round of the state playoffs at the Lynn Cottrell Center.

Chestatee was one of six area teams playing at home in the second round on Friday, and Lady War Eagles coach Sutton Shirley felt that was a huge factor in the comeback.

“Being at home was a huge advantage for us,” Shirley said.”It was a great atmosphere and a great win for us. We’re glad to be back in the Elite 8 for a second straight season.”

Senior Riley Black led the come-from-behind charge, pouring in 31 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, and dishing out a half-dozen assists as well.

And it was a rough start for the back-to-back Region 8-4A champions. The Lady Generals were on fire while Chestatee was ice cold from the field to start the game. Heritage (16-13) opened the game with a 3-pointer from Reese Abercrombie and capped a 16-5 run on a Bailee Hollis trey with just over a minute left in the first quarter.

“We started off sluggish, and I’m not going to lie, I was a little concerned,” Shirley said.

The Heritage offense was finding seams inside and open shooters outside and scoring at will in the game's first six minutes. But after a timeout, the tide turned.

“The adjustments we put in after a timeout and between quarters were game-changers,” Shirley said. “After the first quarter, we were really good, and that’s a testament to the kids and how they played.”

The Lady War Eagles, who were just 2-of-11 and just 1-of-6 from 3-point range to start the game, finally found their range. And the defense held the Lady Generals to just a pair of free throws over a nearly six-minute stretch.

Black closed out the first period with their first basket in over five minutes, and then Addison Boyd, Caroline Bull, and Black all hit 3-pointers in the opening two minutes of the second quarter to tie the game at 16.

Chestatee took its first lead of the game at 20-18 on a Black basket with 3:52 left in the half, and baskets by Payton Cable and Black gave the Lady War Eagles a 24-23 lead at the break.

Heritage reclaimed the lead early in the third quarter, but Chestatee used its defense and two more treys from Bull in a 12-4 run for a 36-29 lead, which they would not relinquish. Three-pointers by Boyd and Bull to open the fourth pushed Chestatee’s lead to 49-38, and two Black free throws with 1:19 left gave the Lady War Eagles a 57-45 lead.

Heritage would not get closer than 8 until Macie Collins, who finished with 19 points, banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final score.

Bull finished with 15 points on five 3-pointers, Boyd also had two 3-pointers, and Blakely Boyd hit a big trey in the third quarter run for Chestatee. Combined with Black, the Lady War Eagles offense eventually just had too many weapons for the Lady Generals.

“We’re really hard to guard man-to-man, and when you have a player like Riley, that makes it even harder,” Shirley said. “If you collapse on Riley, we have shooters like Addison and Caroline that can hit shots.

Chestatee will take on Fayette County, a 53-25 winner over Burke County, next on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at home.

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