Updated Mon, Mar 24, 2014 4:39 pm
The Eastern Lady Eagles and their five seniors set a goal to bring home a state championship a year ago and did just that on Saturday.
Eastern pulled out a 49-38 victory over the Bishop Rosecrans Lady Bishops in a hard-fought contest that marked just the third state title for a Tri-Valley Conference team in history. The Lady Eagles also became the first team from the Tri-Valley area to ever take home a girls’ basketball championship.
“Our girls pulled through the tough times and worked hard…That’s about the way I thought it would go…That’s just what we planned,” Coach John Burdette said. “We said there would be multiple runs for each club and we just had to stop their shooting from the outside, and make it difficult for them to score.”
Rosecrans was coming off a 15-point victory over Holgate in which they were entirely dominant to earn a trip to the ‘ship.
The Eagles won their 27th game of the year, opposed to just one loss. The victory was the second for Eastern over the Lady Bishops on the season.
Jenna Burdette finished with 24 points, including 20 in the second half to bring home the hardware to Reedsville.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have told you if she had two points at halftime… John Burdette said. “…at the end of the game…in the huddle I said ‘hey listen, we’re gonna try and get the ball back in Jenna’s hands, and you know, let her get to the bucket, get a foul or make the right passes.”
Eastern came out focused defensively, using size to its advantage, as Erin Swatzel and Katie Keller each grabbed several rebounds. Every single Eagle who played finished the game with at least four rebounds.
From the start, the Eastern defense made an effort to force the Lady Bishop ball handlers to run their offense from the left side of the floor and use their weak hands offensively. The strategy proved effective as Bishop shot a paltry 23.8 percent from the floor.
“It was really difficult because they were so much bigger than us, number 15 (Keller) was packed in, so we couldn’t really use our inside game as much,” Rosecrans senior Molly Nash said.
Laura Pullins came in off the bench to hit big 3-pointers to give Eastern momentum. One came in the last moments of the first quarter and gave the Lady Eagles an 11-8 lead. The other came early in the second to put the Eagles back on top by a score of 14-12. It was a lead that Eastern never gave up, and they went up 22-16 into the half.
Bishop Rosecrans never gained control of the game with its best stretch not exceeding a 6-0 run. Rosecrans put up that run in a short stretch towards the end of the third quarter in which it narrowed the deficit from 31-21 to 31-27.
Burdette responded to the run with a dagger of a 3-pointer to put the Eagles up 34-27.
The two teams took their respective shots at one another until about halfway through the fourth. The Lady Bishops gave their fans something to cheer about, as Kloie Johnson hit a trey to bring her team within two at 39-37.
Swatzel, Keller and Jordan Parker all ran into foul trouble late, with Swatzel exiting to a standing ovation after fouling out with 2:03 left in the game and Eastern leading 43-37.
“I don’t think anybody really thinks about it… if I have three or four (fouls), I just always tell them, ‘play hard no matter if you have four fouls or not,’” Coach Burdette said. “You play defense. If you get your fifth foul, so what. We’ve got someone else coming in for you.”
But Eastern was able to hold off the Lady Bishops as the game neared its close, as the Lady Eagles came up with baskets and knocked down free throws when it needed them most.
Jordan Parker essentially ended the game with just over a minute left by hitting two free throws and putting Eastern up 46-38.
The play of Molly Nash, a second team All-Ohio performer, kept the Lady Bishops in the game. The 5-foot-11 senior forward, in her last high school game, scored 15 points (including 12 of her team’s first 19 points). She scored most of those points at the line, going 11 of 17 from the charity stripe, but only 2 of 10 from the field.
John Burdette moved to 123-30 in this, the last game of his sixth season with the team.
“I don’t think it would matter if it were tiddlywinks with this team,” Burdette said. “If they set their goal to do win it, they’d probably go on to do it…I’m just lucky they chose basketball.”
The Eagles, who have had great support from their fan base throughout the season, especially in the tournament, brought a rabid group of Eagles from their nest to Columbus on Saturday.
“It’s great. Every court, it’s home,” Jordan Parker said.
Eastern finished what it set out to do after last season. Now the Lady Eagles have something to remember for a lifetime. This Eastern team, and those five seniors in particular, have cemented their legacy forever.