MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — Zacharyia Esmon finished the 2017-18 season on a strong note for Walters State, and she picked right up where she left off in the 2018-19 season opener Friday night for the Lady Senators.
Esmon tossed in a career-high 22 points and pulled down 8 rebounds, leading ninth-ranked WSCC in both statistics in a 69-55 victory over 18th-ranked Georgia Highlands on the opening day of the Walters State Senators Tip-Off Classic inside 'Z' Buda Gymnasium and Assembly Hall.
Esmon scored 13 points in the first half to help the Lady Senators pull ahead late in the second period, and she sparked a 16-0 run in the second half that helped the home team put the game away in the fourth period.
Neither team led by more than three points in the first period, with the lead swapping back and forth seven times in the opening 10 minutes.
Walters State led by three on three different occasions in the frame, with the last being 17-14 on a bucket by Esmon late in the stanza. Georgia Highlands kept it close with the play of Ciara Thompson, who came in off the bench and scored eight points in the first quarter, including a bucket in the final seconds to cut WSCC's lead to 17-16 after one.
The Lady Senators opened the second period on a 6-0 run, with buckets from Alexis Trice, Dulcy Mendjiadeu and Carnessia Griggs to make it 23-16 with 8:40 left in the first half. The Lady Chargers bounced back however, as Jessica Yates banked in a 3-pointer and Thompson scored inside to cap an 11-3 stretch to put the visitors on top 27-26 with 3:55 left in the half.
The flip-flopped three more times before halftime, but Esmon hit a late triple and added another bucket before the half to help put Walters State on top, 40-34, at intermission.
The Lady Senators shot 53.6 percent (15 of 28) in the opening half, with Esmon leading the home team with 13 points and Mendjiadeu adding 9 in the first two periods. The Lady Chargers shot 44.1 percent (15 of 34) and were sparked by Thompson with 13 points.
Consecutive buckets from Thompson and Destiny Marshall to open the second half cut the deficit to 40-38, but Mendjiadeu scored two buckets and Esmon hit a jumper to spread the margin to 46-38 at the midway point of the third. GHC answered right back, scoring nine straight points to take the lead on a leaner in the paint by Sharai Lay to give the visitors a 47-46 lead.
The lead for Highlands didn't last, as Trice nailed a triple from the left wing on the next possession to put WSCC back on top, and Esmon hit a 15-footer and a 3-pointer in a closing 10-0 run to make it 56-47 heading to the fourth.
Mendjiadeu scored the first bucket of the fourth frame to push the margin into double digits, and two buckets from Brianna Dixon made it 16 straight points for the Lady Senators and put them ahead 62-47 with 6:40 left to play. The Lady Chargers never got closer than 11 the rest of the way, and a trey from Trice with just a little more than three minutes left sealed the win for WSCC.
The Lady Senators shot 50 percent (28 of 56) in the win, hitting 5 of 12 from long range and 8 of 11 at the charity stripe, and they won the battle on the boards, 34-24. Mendjiadeu tallied 17 points and 6 boards and Trice tossed in 10 points in the contest.
The Lady Chargers shot 40 percent (24 of 60) in the contest, making just 3 of 15 from distance and 4 of 6 at the free throw line. Thompson led GHC with 20 points, while Marshall added 10 points in the loss.
The Lady Senators will be back in action Saturday night when they play host to No. 6 Shelton State at 5 p.m. The Lady Bucs won their season opener Friday afternoon, taking a 92-43 victory over Roane State.