JACKSON, Ohio — Now that’s a tradition worth holding on to.
For the seventh year in a row the Eastern girls basketball is headed to the Division IV District Final. The second-seeded Lady Eagles — who start three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior — knocked off third-seeded Leesburg Fairfield by a 37-30 count, in Saturday’s district semifinal at Jackson High School.
Eastern (17-6) held an early 6-4 lead, but was held scoreless for the final 2:30 of the opening stanza, as the Lady Lions (12-12) grabbed a 7-6 advantage.
After a pair of lead changes to start the second quarter, EHS went on an 8-2 run, that was capped off by a Rebecca Pullins three-pointer at the 4:40 mark and gave the Green and Gold a 16-11 lead. Fairfield made a free throw at the 4:27 mark to make the score 16-12, but both teams were held off the scoreboard for the next four minutes. Rebecca Pullins ended the drought sank the final basket of the first half and EHS took a 18-12 lead into the break.
In the first 16 minutes of play, Fairfield held an 18-to-16 rebounding edge, including a 8-to-4 advantage on the offensive glass. Both teams committed nine turnovers in the first half, but Eastern led the field goal percentage battle by a 33.3-to-17.9 clip.
Eastern scored six of the first eight points in the second half and led 24-14 with 5:45 left in the third. However, the Lady Eagles failed to score for another four-minute stretch and FHS cut the deficit to 24-21. EHS outscored the Lady Lions 5-to-1 over the remainder of the third and led 29-22 headed into the finale.
It took nearly four minutes for either team to score in the fourth quarter, but Fairfield claimed five of the first six points and trailed by just one possession, 30-27, with 2:30 left in the game. A trifecta by EHS junior Laura Pullins gave the Lady Eagles some breathing room at 33-27 with 2:23 remaining.
Eastern added a free throw to push its lead to seven points with just under a minute remaining, but Fairfield’s Macie Pauley responded with a three-pointer with 45 seconds left. Eastern sank 3-of-6 free throws in the final 40 seconds, while holding the Lady Lions scoreless to cap off the 37-30 victory.
“We’re moving on and that’s what matters this time of the year,” Eastern head coach John Burdette said. “We knew it was going to be a physical game, so that didn’t surprise us. We have to do better with execution, that’s all. We just didn’t do a good job of boxing out. The one thing I wrote on the board before the game was ‘rebounds will be key’. They were key for Fairfield.”
Laura Pullins led the Lady Eagles with 10 points, followed by Rebecca Pullins and Jess Parker with eight each. Elizabeth Collins scored six points, Hannah Bailey chipped in with three, while Alyson Bailey marked two points to round out the EHS scoring.
Collins led EHS on the glass with 10 rebounds, Rebecca Pullins added seven, while Alyson Bailey and Laura Pullins both grabbed five boards. Parker posted a team-best three assists, while Collins, Alyson Bailey and Laura Pullins each had two. Collins also led the Lady Eagles on defense with three blocked shots, while Parker added two steals.
“I’m not disappointed with our season one bit,” Burdette said. “We’re playing four freshmen, a sophomore and throw in a couple of juniors, there’s no other team still playing that’s doing that. But, we don’t want to dwell on it, because that’s our varsity. They’re young and I think they’ll get better. This is a great experience for them, not many freshmen get this experience.”
For the game, Eastern made 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) free throw attempts and 14-of-50 (28 percent) field goal attempts, including 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) three-point tries. As a team EHS marked 26 defensive rebounds, seven offensive boards, nine assists, three steals, five blocks and 21 turnovers.
Fairfield was led by Grace Shope led the Lady Lions with 17 points, nine rebounds and five steals, while Pauley added eight points and seven boards. Trinity Huff recorded two points and two assists, Brianna Barnes added two points and three blocks, while Lauren Arnold scored one point in the loss.
FHS shot 10-of-17 (58.8 percent) from the free throw line and 9-of-55 (16.4 percent) from the field, including 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) from three-point range. The Lady Lions combined for 23 defensive rebounds, 16 offensive boards, 10 steals, three blocks and 22 turnovers.
Eastern will face top-seeded South Webster, in Thursday’s District final at JHS. The Lady Jeeps ousted EHS in the 2015 district final by a 50-35 count.
“We’re going to have to execute,” Burdette said. “The main thing is that we have to execute, if we don’t execute we make things harder on ourselves. If we execute, we make things easier and the game’s a lot easier. Defensively, we have to concentrate on their best players and best shooters. It’s just a typical game, you don’t prepare for anybody any differently.”
In its last six chances, Eastern is 4-2 in district final tilts, with both losses coming to South Webster.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.