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Lady Eagles soar over Coosa Valley

An aggressive display from Madison Ann Gaston got the Fort Dale Academy Lady Eagles started on the right foot Thursday, jumping out to an early 8-0 lead.

An aggressive display from Madison Ann Gaston got the Fort Dale Academy Lady Eagles started on the right foot Thursday, jumping out to an early 8-0 lead.

A stellar defensive performance from the Fort Dale Academy fended off a second-half comeback as the No. 1 seed Lady Eagles defeated the No. 4 seed Coosa Valley Academy Lady Rebels 49-34.

Madison Ann Gaston set the pace for Fort Dale early with an opening bucket, followed by a layup after receiving a pinpoint pass from Tucker Whiddon to put the Lady Eagles up 4-0.

Two free throws and another bucket from Gaston swelled the early Fort Dale lead to 8-0, but a very long-distance 3-pointer from Coosa Valley’s Denise Niven broke the silence for the Lady Rebels.

But Niven proved a little too trigger happy, firing off several errant shots from beyond the arc, hampering Coosa Valley’s offensive production in the process.

The Lady Rebels did create a few high-percentage shots for themselves steals and breakaway layup attempts, but an excellent chase-down defense from Anna Blake Langford cut the fast break opportunities short.

Everyone struggled from behind the arc in the second quarter, however, despite a number of good looks from Fort Dale’s Anjoy Castleberry and Whiddon.

But Gaston kept the Lady Eagles aloft with a series of 10-foot jumpers, while Coosa Valley continued to shoot themselves out of the game with well-defended 3-pointers.

Tayler Fortsman ended a quarter-long scoring drought for the Lady Rebels on a basket made with 1:46 remaining in the half, but the Lady Eagles had cultivated a 22-6 lead by the time the teams hit the locker rooms.

The third quarter was an entirely different story, however, as Kalei Merrifield took over the second half by matching Coosa Valley’s offensive production from the entire first half in just four minutes of play.

Niven found success from downtown with two consecutive, extremely long 3-pointers, forcing a Fort Dale timeout in the process.

The night-and-day difference continued as the Lady Eagles’ lead diminished to single digits, with Coosa Valley outscoring Fort Dale 18-11 in the third quarter.

Lucy Bates started the fourth quarter strong for the Lady Eagles with a putback that renewed Fort Dale’s breathing room.

But Merrifield drew a foul on a 3-pointer for a potential 4-point play that stole the wind from the Lady Eagles regained sails.

Panic on the Fort Dale bench ensued as foul trouble mounted until Merrifield, the architect of Coosa Valley’s comeback, went down hard from a collision in the paint.

The two free throws were poor consolation for the loss of Lady Rebel morale, despite cutting the lead to just 5 points.

A dagger of a 3-pointer finally found its mark thanks to Whiddon as the Lady Rebels continued to struggle without its leading scorer.

Merrifield found her way back to the court, though it proved too late to mount a comeback as Anna Blake and Madison Langford, as well as Anjoy Castleberry, extended the lead to 14 at the charity strike.

A blocked 3-point attempt from Anna Blake Langford ended the Lady Eagles’ defensive statement with an exclamation point as the final ticks melted off the clock.

The Lady Eagles will face either Glenwood or Autauga in the semifinal round today at 10 a.m.