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Lady Rams at Lady Eagles
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Sloppy, amateurish, careless - call it what you may regarding the showdown between the Newton and Eastside girls varsity basketball teams Saturday at the Nest.

The Lady Rams (1-1) kept their winning streak alive against Eastside (0-1) with a gritty 43-39 victory. In fact, the Lady Eagles have yet to beat them since the rivalry began some years ago.

"It feels good," said Newton head coach Tiffani Johnson about keeping the streak in tact, "but that's something I never mentioned to my players. I just told them that we've got to come to play. (Eastside) was going to be hyped up and I knew we had to be just as hyped and smart on the court."

Just to give you an idea of how ham-fisted the game actually was, Eastside had one more point than turnovers (38) compared to 26 turnovers committed by the Lady Rams.

In addition, there was a combined 43 fouls called between both squads.

"I thought we played pretty good defense," said Eastside head coach Jason Grooms. "Actually, they scored some points after we stole it and then gave it back to them, especially when we got in the half-court set. But I thought we played good defense; we just (have) to find a way to score."

With the score knotted at 10 in the first quarter, Eastside's Kiara Smith hit a jumper at the buzzer to give her team the lead.

But the Lady Rams scored 14 points in the second to lead 24-21 entering halftime.

However, after the first half of action ended there were a combined 37 turnovers and 25 fouls between both teams.

At halftime, Johnson "got a bit riled up" with her team based on the sloppy performance demonstrated in the opening two quarters. Nevertheless, the Lady Rams responded.

"I told them we can't foul if we want to win this game," recalled Johnson. "We need certain people in the game to be able to play, and if those people foul out then our chances of winning might be a little different. So, I just told them we've got to come out here and get the job done."

Grooms agreed that the first half got a bit out of hand.

"We challenged the girls at halftime to play hard and start rebounding," said Grooms, "and I thought we did a better job in the second half, so that's good."

Strong defense by both teams resulted in a combined 13 points scored in the third - 8 for Eastside and 5 for Newton.

But the fourth quarter proved to be quite dramatic, as both teams fought hard until the buzzer sounded at the very end.

Smith opened the quarter with a trey to give Eastside the lead, 32-29. After a Newton basket by Shay Marks, Smith responded with yet another 3-pointer to give her team back the lead, 35-31, and the much-needed momentum.

"I hope (Kiara) can do a lot more of that for us," said Grooms. "We need some scoring."

Newton's Loren Wilkins hit a jumped to tie it at 35 with four minutes and 45 seconds remaining.

After trading baskets, Eastside's Jade Cook nailed two free throws with 58 seconds left to make it 40-39 advantage Newton.

But the Lady Rams would seal the deal after Wilkins made the biggest basket of the night - a layup and one.

Despite shooting 4-of-27 from the field, Wilkins had a game-high 12 points.

"Oh, it was very big," said Johnson of the bucket. "I told Loren to keep shooting, and (that) sometimes you can't let your game get sidetracked just because a couple shots don't fall. I told her to keep shooting and eventually they fall in, and the most important one fell in."

Marks ended with 10 points, while Chaconna Marks added six.

Cook led Eastside with 10 points. Smith added eight, while Ashley Burtts also scored eight points, including a game-high five steals. Ashley Crew added five points for the Lady Eagles.

So far Newton is still trying to adjust without standout Brittany Carter, who graduated earlier this year and is now playing for the Georgia Lady Bulldogs. But against the Lady Eagles nine different players scored for Newton.

"That's something the team is having to adjust to," said Johnson. "I haven't had that definitive leader step up, but I think it's not a bad thing. It has to be a team effort because of that, and I think this time we adjusted well and came out ready to play."

Despite the loss, Grooms remains optimistic about this season because his team is still young. In fact, he started two freshmen against Eastside - Cook and Raven Williams (four points).

"We've got a good group of really young girls that we're excited about," said Grooms. "They've got a long time to play, so that's exciting."