High School Sports

Devils fight off Eagles for region crown

Dreher got what it expected and everything it hoped for Friday night at Airport.

The host Eagles trailed throughout the game but pulled within three points before falling 65-50 to the Blue Devils (14-6, 9-0) in the Region 5-3A title game.

Coach Theresa Jones expected a fight from the second-place Eagles (14-4, 7-2), whom Dreher had defeated by 14 points on Jan. 15.

"We knew they weren't going to lay down for us," Jones said. "We needed to come out focused and ready. And we worked a lot on being prepared and playing aggressive defense."

Dreher started strong with point guard Shakeina Smith posting nine points to put the Blue Devils ahead 18-9 after one quarter. Airport's offense was stunted by turnovers as it fell further behind in the second quarter. With less than four minutes to play in the half, coach Trey Wallace's team trailed 26-11.

"Turnovers have been our Achilles heel all year long," Wallace said. "We knew exactly what they were going to do and we had a plan for it, but you can't do it when you turn over the ball."

"We gave up a ton of gifts to them, we just didn't do a very good job of taking care of the ball. When we stopped doing that, funny thing happened - we started coming back," he said.

Add in a string of careless turnovers by the Blue Devils - which led to back-to-back-to-back baskets from Maya McCray - and the Eagles' dominance on the glass, and Airport knocked its deficit down to six points at halftime. With 2:32 remaining in the third quarter, Eagles senior Shonta McNeal made a steal and fastbreak layup to make it a one-possession game. They never got any closer.

"We realized we didn't have the height inside, which is usually the case, so what we tried to do was use our speed and quickness," Jones said.

Smith and shooting guard Tequila McNeal pushed the ball, and what the Blue Devils could not do at the backboards, they did on the perimeter. Jones and McNeal combined for four steals and five assists in the second half as the Blue Devils again pulled away.

"Now we have to buckle down on defense from here but keep doing the things we've been doing, because it's working for us," said McNeal, who led the Blue Devils with 21 points.

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D: Sullivan 9, Tequila McNeal 21, Shakeina Smith 12, Taylor Scott 12, Dreher 7, Nathaniel 3, Canty 1. A: McCray 9, Shonta McNeal 15, Canzater 9, Julisa Muldrow 11, Ellison 5, Patterson 1.

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