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File Photo Lithia Springs coach David Mills says his team defense was key to win over Chapel Hill.

Listening to  coach David Mills’ words at halftime, the Lithia Springs girls basketball team clawed its way back in a back-and-forth game at Region 5-AAAAA rival Chapel Hill and used a second-half surge to pull away for good on its way to a 71-58 win.

“Defense, that’s all I said at halftime,” Mills said. “If we don’t defend like it matters, we won’t win the game.”

The Lions erased a 29-24 Chapel Hill halftime lead, and took its first lead since leading 19-18 in the second quarter, when Kiana Johnson hit a jumper to put Lithia Springs up 35-33 with a little over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

That basket was a part of a 15-0 run that put the Lions up 43-33. Lithia Springs eventually led 45-38 after three quarters, but pushed the lead to 59-45 on a Johnson steal and layup with four minutes remaining in the game.

Johnson led all scorers with 30 points, while teammates Arit Asanga and Ayanna Dinkins had 19 and 13 points respectively. Johnson and Asanga capitalized on the good defense behind them and played the passing lanes to come up with steals and transition baskets.

“That’s our offense when we defend like it matters,” Mills said.

Lithia Springs improved to 9-10 overall and 6-6 region play, while Chapel Hill dropped to 10-9 and 6-6. Both teams are right in the middle of the region standings and appear out of the running for a top-two seed in the region tournament and thus a bye into the semifinals.

Coming into the game Chapel Hill had won five of its last six games with the lone loss being a 64-43 defeat at region-leading Hiram. Of the five wins, four were region games in which the Panthers fought to get a close win. Chapel Hill defeated Allatoona by six points, Alexander by two, South Paulding by one, and New Manchester by seven.

“The difference in this game was us taking care of the ball,” Chapel Hill head coach Chris Long said. “We just had too many turnovers at the wrong time.”

Lithia Springs had split its last three region games, getting wins over Paulding County, East Paulding and Allatoona; the three teams bellow the Lions in the region standings, but dropping contests to New Manchester, Villa Rica, and Hiram.

“We lost some games earlier when we couldn’t figure it out,” Mills said. “Hopefully tonight will be a step in figuring it out if we can get a run going.”

Of the six region games Chapel Hill has left to play in the regular season only two are against teams currently in the top four of the region standings. They are a home meeting with Villa Rica on Jan. 26 and a trip to South Paulding on Feb. 2.

“We still got some things we can play for,” Long said. “We still got to fix the turnovers […].”

Alexia Wallace led Chapel Hill with 19 points.

Lithia Springs has another date with each of the bottom three, but also has another meeting with Alexander, South Paulding, and New Manchester left.

“Right now we need to worry about Allatoona Friday night,” Mills said.

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