Class 7A girls: McEachern 70, Collins Hill 61

McEachern's player head to the bench for last-minute instructions from coach Phyllis Arthur before their game against Collins Hill in the Class 7A quarterfinals Tuesday at McEachern.
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McEachern's player head to the bench for last-minute instructions from coach Phyllis Arthur before their game against Collins Hill in the Class 7A quarterfinals Tuesday at McEachern.

Credit: Chip Saye

Credit: Chip Saye

Collins Hill and McEachern, the top-ranked teams in 7A and the most prominent girls basketball programs in the highest classification, seemed like a dream matchup for a championship game.

The bracket had them face off in the quarterfinals instead, but their matchup Tuesday night at McEachern was still worthy of a state final.

McEachern’s Jillian Hollingshead, a Georgia signee who last week was named a McDonald’s All-American, scored 34 points and had 17 rebounds and five blocked shots to lead the second-ranked Indians (18-4) to a 70-61 victory over the No. 1-ranked Eagles (25-2).

“It’s just the way it fell,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said of the bracket. “It’s just sad that one of us had to go home now.”

Collins Hill and McEachern have combined to win 10 state championships in the highest class since 2001, when the Eagles won their first of five in seven seasons. McEachern won five in six years from 2012 to 2017.

McEachern’s victory avenged a 61-40 loss to Collins Hill in the quarterfinals last year, when the Eagles finished as state runners-up, as well a 52-51 loss in the Indians’ opener this season on Nov. 23.

The Indians’ semifinal opponent this weekend will be No. 5 Marietta, which knocked off third-ranked Cherokee 54-53 in overtime Tuesday in Canton. McEachern and Marietta, longtime region rivals that were separated this season because of reclassification, met in the regular season on Dec. 1, with McEachern winning 61-59.

Hollingshead was instrumental in two runs that put the Indians in charge of the game. She had five points as the Indians outscored Collins Hill 13-5 at the start of the second quarter, turning a 17-16 deficit into a 29-22 lead. She also scored the Indians’ first seven points of the second half - on a 3-pointer, a short jumper and a layup - to give the Indians a 40-33 lead.

“We’ve told her all season that we want to see some excitement when she does something good,” Arthur said. “When she started showing excitement, we knew she was going to play well. She wanted to play really, really well and show everybody why she’s a McDonald’s All-American.”

McEachern never gave up the lead after the early part of the second quarter, but Collins Hill didn’t let its deficit grow to more than nine. The Eagles stayed close with some big 3-pointers in the second half - two each by Yamea Elliott and Kyra Jefferson - and eventually got within one point at 56-55 but could never pull even. The Indians outscored Collins Hill 14-6 down the stretch, sealing the victory by going 6-for-7 from the free-throw line in the final 37 seconds.

Collins Hill was able to get inside for layups early and led throughout the first quarter, but the Eagles had no answer for Hollingshead, who scored at least seven points in every quarter. Sianny Sanchez-Oliver and Region 2 player of the year Denim DeShiels stepped up to provide much-needed assistance. Sanchez-Oliver scored all nine of her points in the second quarter, and DeShields scored 14 of her 18 in the second half.

Eden Sample led Collins Hill with 21 points. Jefferson scored 13, and Elliott had 11.

“That was a battle from the beginning to the end,” Arthur said. “There was never a point that I felt we had it until the last 15 seconds.”