The Collins Hill Lady Eagles are two wins away from their first state title in a decade. Taking advantage of their athleticism with an effective full-court press and transition game, they overcame foul trouble and posted a 57-46 road win over Lambert in the Class AAAAAAA quarterfinals on Tuesday.
The No. 4-ranked Lady Eagles (25-4; No. 2 seed from Region 6) advance to the semifinals to play Norcross. That game's tipoff is set for 2 p.m., Saturday at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. The Lady Eagles are looking for their first state title since 2007, when Maya Moore closed her prep career by guiding them to a third straight championship.
"This has been the goal since June, to get to the state championship," said Collins Hill coach Brian Harmon, in his second season leading the Lady Eagles.
The No. 3 Lady Longhorns (26-3; No. 1 seed from Region 5) enjoyed the most successful run in the program's short history, which began in 2009. Prior to this season's quarterfinals run, they'd never made it past the second round.
Collins Hill struggled early and then often with foul trouble, committing 25 in the game to Lambert's 14, and entered the second quarter tied with the Lady Longhorns at 12. But they opened the second quarter on a 9-2 run behind their full-court press, which led to easy baskets on the other end, and they went into halftime with a 29-17 lead.
The Lady Eagles picked up the second half where they left off, extending the lead by as much as 43-22 late in the third quarter using an athletic advantage to run the court and wear down Lambert.
"That was the idea -- just to see if (Lambert) could handle it," Harmon said. "Because I saw them on film and they'd just played a team that pressed them in Hillgrove and they didn't back down...I noticed they have a tendency to stay on their right hand so if I could take that hand away, I could limit opportunities at the basket and that worked."
The Lady Eagles were led by 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Javyn Nicholson, who scored 14 points, followed by Harmon's daughter, Bria Harmon (13 points), and Katherine Fourie (10 points).
Despite falling in a second-half hole, Lambert did make a fourth-quarter run. Junior forward M.E. Craven, who frustrated the Lady Eagles defense all night by attacking the basket, scored 10 of her game-high 22 points in the final quarter as Lambert pulled to within 52-42 with 1:36 remaining, but they never got any closer.
For Lambert, it was an end to a season that saw them make a coaching change when, three days before the playoffs started, head coach Jaime Fisher had a baby. Carolyn Whitney took over in the interim and the Lady Longhorns pulled off wins over Central Gwinnett and Hillgrove.
"It was a wild season for sure," Whitney said. "(Fisher taking a maternity leave) was a challenge, a fun challenge. The kids played hard no matter what, and played through a lot of tough games. We fought until the very end with Collins Hill and it was a good finish."