TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — Just another first to add to the legacy.
Eastern became the first program in both county and conference history to earn the top spot in an Ohio Associated Press girls basketball poll, as the unbeaten Lady Eagles were given the No. 1 ranking in Division IV following the release of the fourth weekly poll Tuesday night.
Eastern (15-0) amassed 178 total points and received six first-place votes from 21 voters throughout the Buckeye State, pushing the Green and Gold ahead of the rest of the D-4 field by 19 points. The Lady Eagles placed seventh, third and second in the previous three polls.
Former No.1 Newark Catholic (14-2) — which dropped a 57-56 nail-biter to EHS in the Southeast Regional championship last March — fell to second overall with 159 points, despite a Division IV-best seven first-place votes.
Berlin Hiland (14-2), Bridgeport (18-0) and Fayetteville-Perry rounded out the top-five spots in the poll with respective totals of 145, 142 and 109 points. Eight different teams received at least one first-place vote in the Division IV poll.
The latest honor is just one of many for the Lady Eagles over the last three-plus campaigns, a stretch that has included three regional berths, two shared TVC Hocking titles and the first-ever state qualifier in D-4 from the Southeast District.
The five senior starters — Jenna Burdette, Jordan Parker, Erin Swatzel, Maddie Rigsby and Katie Keller — own a 78-14 overall record in their current EHS hoops career. The quintet also played a major role in getting last year’s team to a 23-5 mark, which serves as a school record for wins in a season.
Sixth-year coach John Burdette — who owns a 108-29 overall record at Eastern — was truly humble in speaking about a rare distinction for this neck of the woods.
“It’s nice that the sports writers throughout the state feel that way about us right now, especially given the fact that we come from southeastern Ohio,” Burdette said. “It is an honor for us, our school, our community and Meigs County. We are truly appreciative of this recognition.”
Burdette noted that he doesn’t normally get caught up in the AP poll, primarily because he — and his squad — are usually too busy working on the next task at hand. He also knows that wearing the bull’s-eye comes with some disadvantages.
“I don’t usually pay too much attention to the rankings, because none of that really matters when tournament play begins. I do know that number one is usually not a good place to be going into the tournament,” Burdette said with a chuckle. “I really am thrilled for our kids, but our goal this year wasn’t to be the highest ranked team in the regular season. We’re aiming to be the number one team at the end of the postseason.”
The Lady Eagles have currently won 18 straight games in the regular season, but that streak will be tested later this week when the Green and White play three road games in as many days. Eastern heads to Stewart Thursday for a TVC Hocking contest, then EHS travels to the Huntington Saint Joseph Classic this weekend for a pair of stern non-conference tests.
The Lady Eagles will face five-time defending Class A state champion Huntington St. Joseph in the opening round Friday night, then return to action Saturday morning when they take on Boyd County.
Eastern is averaging 77.1 points per game offensively while allowing just 23.6 points, a difference of 53.5 points per outing. The closest an opponent has been to EHS this season is 17 points, which came on December 28 during a 70-53 win over previously unbeaten Zanesville Rosecrans (15-1) — currently the ninth-ranked team in Division IV.
Eastern was not the only area team to make some noise in the latest AP poll. Athens (18-0) received two No. 1 votes and finished fourth overall in the Division II poll, while Oak Hill (14-1) and Beverly Fort Frye (13-2) respectively placed fourth and 10th in the D-3 voting.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Lady Oaks are the only southeastern Ohio girls team to finish the regular season ranked No. 1 in the polls. OHHS twice accomplished the feat during the 2004-05 and 2010-11 campaigns in Division III.