COVINGTON - Four 3-pointers by Neal Latimore helped turn Eastside's early 13-6 deficit into a 31-23 halftime lead against Oconee County in the first round of the Region 8-AAA playoffs Tuesday. Eastside held on to beat the Warriors 59-51 and secure a spot in the Class AAA playoffs.
The Eagles play in the tournament semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Franklin County vs. Stephens County.
The Eagles started the game slow not only on the scoreboard but on the floor as well. They fouled five times and were outrebounded by the Warriors 9-5.
"I think sometimes young kids understand they have a lot of pressure on them and they know what's at stake," Eastside coach Michael Gerald said. "We knew we had to sustain whatever run they made and eventually we'd get it going offensively. I didn't believe they could defend our quickness."
With the first quarter behind them, the Eagles turned things around, pressing Oconee County and causing turnovers as Eastside went on a 17-2 run to take a 23-15 lead.
Latimore scored 14 points in the second quarter, more than half of his team's offense in the period.
Eastside outscored Oconee County 25-10 in the second frame to end the half with an eight-point lead.
"That's what we ask of him every game," Gerald said. "Sometimes, I don't understand. He gets lost in the second half. I know teams make adjustments and everything, but we just asked him to step up."
The Eagles slowed their pace in the second half to match whatever Oconee County threw their way.
As a result of Eastside's steady and controlled play, the Warriors were never able to establish a serious comeback.
Latimore paced the Eagles offensively with 16 points, followed by Cameron Robinson's 15 and Eric Shy's 10.
Oconee County's Ben Hyduke led all scorers with 18 points, nine coming from free throws, and Isaac Givens was the only other Warriors player in double figures, scoring 11 points.
The one poorly played part of Eastside's game was free-throw shooting.
While Oconee County made 85 percent of its free throws, 11 of 13, Eastside made 55 percent, shooting 10 of 18. The Eagles were 3 of 8 (38 percent) in the first half.
Shy was a perfect 5-for-5, while Robinson was 5-for-7.
"When we lost the first game to these guys, we were 8 of 28. But we made them when it counted at the end. We were just fortunate we had a lead," Gerald said.
"My hats off to the other team, but the guys came through regardless."
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.