PICKERINGTON, Ohio — If experience counts for anything, it could be a very interesting week for girls basketball within the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division.
Both Eastern and Waterford will be making their third Sweet 16 appearance in the last four years, and each school will have more postseason experience at this level than their respective counterparts Thursday night at the Division IV Region 15 tournament at Pickerington High School North in Fairfield County.
Both the Lady Eagles (21-4) and Lady Wildcats (19-6) — who shared the TVC Hocking title with matching 15-1 marks — are the only squads in this section with regional final experience over the previous three years, and each team will have at least two years of playing at the regional level to draw from before Thursday night.
It will be the 10th consecutive postseason that the TVC Hocking will have at least one program in the D-4 regional tournament, and it is also the fourth time during that span that two clubs from the Hocking Division will be represented in the Sweet 16. None of those previous dozen qualifiers have advanced to the state tournament.
Eastern — which will be playing in its third consecutive regional tournament — will take on Sycamore Mohawk (21-4) at 6:15 p.m. in the opener, while Waterford will match up with Newark Catholic (23-3) in the nightcap at 8 p.m. The two winners will face off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in the regional final at PHSN.
The Lady Eagles — who finished the regular season ranked 10th in the final D-4 AP poll — go up against the Mohawk Warriors, who will be making the school’s first-ever trip to regionals for either boys or girls basketball. Mohawk finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Midland Athletic League with an 8-2 mark this season.
The Lady Warriors — who wear Red, Black and White — will be the only team at regionals not wearing some shade of green, which is ironic for the greenest of the four teams at the Pickerington hoops regional. MHS does have regional experience, however, as both the softball and volleyball teams have qualified for the Sweet 16 in the past two seasons.
Both Eastern and Mohawk also took part in the D-4 state volleyball tournament in 2011, but neither school made it past the semifinal round.
The Lady Warriors — who hail from Wyandot County — are averaging 56 points per game while allowing 36 points defensively this winter, and Mohawk posted wins of at least 15 points in its three postseason contests. MHS — a top seed in the Norwalk sectional — has tournament victories over Buckeye Central (63-34), Colonel Crawford (58-43) and Norwalk St. Paul (55-35) thus far.
Mohawk is a senior-laden team, with eight of the 13 varsity players coming from the upper class. The Lady Warriors also utilize a very deep bench, although they have only one player on the roster taller than 5-foot-9.
MHS has an assortment of players capable of putting up double digits on any given night, with junior Kasey Adelsperger leading the way this year with an 11.7 points per game average. Julie Adelsperger is next with a 9.9 average, while senior point guard Lynsey Trusty regularly chips in 9.7 points per night.
During the postseason, senior Sarah Runion has provided some key outside shooting by knocking down seven trifectas and scoring 34 points total in their two district wins. Sarah Parker — a 6-2 senior center — has also had a near double-double average in the tournament.
Like Eastern, Mohawk’s game starts and ends with its defensive prowess. The Lady Warriors led the MAL in points per game defensively while getting three steals a night from both Runion and Trusty.
MHS — which enters Thursday with a nine-game winning streak — is coached by fourth-year frontman Josh Fortney. Mohawk’s four losses are to Clyde (78-35), Carey (55-44), Fostoria St. Wendelin (70-67) and Arcadia (56-47), all of which came on the road.
Eastern advanced to the regional final in 2011 after beating Waterford in the regional semis, but ultimately dropped a 66-35 decision to eventual state champion Canal Winchester Harvest Prep in the final. The Lady Eagles also lost to state qualifier Mansfield St. Peter last year by a 67-60 margin in a regional semifinal.
EHS will be making its fifth regional appearance in program history and currently owns a 1-4 overall mark in the Sweet 16.
Waterford will be making its seventh regional appearance in eight years during the nightcap, while Newark Catholic will be making its second straight trip to regionals.
Waterford — which had its six-year regional run ended by Eastern last year in a district final — last appeared in a regional final in 2010 after dropping a 65-59 overtime decision to eventual state champion Harvest Prep.
The Lady Cats will be tasked with stopping Jill Blacksten, a 6-2 sophomore that was named the D-4 Central District player of the year. Blacksten returned to the lineup a few weeks ago after suffering a stress fracture in her foot.
The Green Wave — who finished the season ranked fourth in the final D-4 AP poll — avenged last year’s regional semifinal loss by eliminating Shekinah Christian (52-39) in the district final last weekend.
Waterford, Eastern and Trimble are the three TVC Hocking schools to reach regionals over the last decade. Trimble joined Eastern in 2004 and Waterford in 2006, and both WHS and EHS played one another in 2011.
The leading scorers for Eastern and Waterford this season also shared the Southeast District player of the year award both this winter and last. Senior Brooke Drayer — a two-time POY selection — is the only Lady Cat averaging more than double digits (14.7 ppg), while junior Jenna Burdette captured her third straight share of the POY honor with an 18.1 ppg average.