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By Bret Strelow
Salisbury Post
HICKORY ó East Rowan senior Haley Miller sprinted toward junior Katelynne Poole and nearly knocked her over with a forceful hug moments after the Mustangs wrapped up a 59-40 victory against St. Stephens on Monday night.Postseason excitement was overdue for East’s girls, who hadn’t prevailed in a playoff game since 2004.
Poole hit five 3-pointers, scored 19 points and absorbed Miller’s cross-check.
“We’ve been working hard together for three years,” Poole said. “It’s her senior year, and we’re just real excited about making it this far.”
East (19-9) eliminated the Indians, who finished second among 3A teams in the CVAC, and advanced to a second-round matchup with SPC champion Concord (26-2).
The Mustangs had dropped four straight playoff games dating back to a 3A regional appearance four years ago. They had a first-round bye in 2006 ó their first season in 4A ó and went 0-2 at that level before moving back down to 3A.
Miller posted 13 points against St. Stephens, which lost its top two scorers to ACL injuries in January. East seniors Lisa Hill and Lauren Cress combined for 17 rebounds, and reserve guard Alaina Vanderford scored seven of her eight points in the fourth quarter.
Vanderford’s 3-pointer with 6:28 remaining gave the Mustangs a 47-30 lead.
“We’re excited to move to the second round,” East coach Karen Garmon said. “They scared me, though, with that first half of basketball. I’m not going to lie to you.
“When we can start making things happen defensively, it just sends the momentum of our game through the roof.”
Ashley Collins, East’s leading scorer, committed three fouls in a 25-second stretch of the first quarter and sat out the rest of the half.
The Mustangs led 27-24 at the break, and Collins contributed to all four baskets in a 9-2 run that opened the third quarter.
“I was just ready to come out and fire my team up,” Collins said. “I knew we needed a little bit of a spark to keep us going, and that’s what I tried to offer.”
An effective trap forced St. Stephens (16-10) to burn a timeout 27 seconds into the second half.
Collins started the run by stealing a pass near midcourt and racing ahead for a layup. Cress made a steal on the next possession, and Collins fed Poole for her fourth 3-pointer. It was the first of three straight assists by Collins, who had five after halftime.
“They threw that three-quarter press on us,” St. Stephens coach Todd Davis said. “I called that timeout and told them, ‘There’s five people on the floor whose eyes are as big as saucers right now.’ ”
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NOTES: Collins, a junior, scored only four points but impressed Davis. “I told their coach, ‘That child’s crazy if she doesn’t try to play at the next level,’ and she said she doesn’t want to. I’m like, ‘You need to talk to her.’ ” … The Indians were missing senior leaders Alex Young and Laura Trent. Young, the CVAC Player of the Year, averaged 20.8 points per game before she tore her ACL on Jan. 5. She has signed to play for Boston University.
EAST ROWAN (59) ó Poole 19, Miller 13, Hill 8, Vanderford 8, Collins 4, Cress 4, Holshouser 2, K.Stout 1, Carroll.
ST. STEPHENS (40) ó Clontz 12, Moretz 8, Skaff 6, Summers 6, Queen 3, Simmons 3, Cain 2, Drum, Houser, Young, Wiseman.
E. Rowan 11 16 15 17 ó 59
St. Stephens 7 17 6 10 ó 40
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Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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