COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even in defeat, the Lady Eagles proved that they belong.
The Eastern girls basketball team had its historical 2012-13 season come to a close Friday afternoon following a heartbreaking 54-51 setback to Berlin Hiland in a Division IV state semifinal contest at Value City Arena on the campus of the Ohio State University in Franklin County.
The Lady Eagles (23-5) battled through eight ties and 18 lead changes throughout the course of the 32-minute affair, as EHS led for more than half of the contest while also claiming the the biggest lead of each half.
The Lady Hawks, however, made their biggest charge of the night when things seemed to be at their worst, as the guests rallied back from an eight-point third quarter deficit with a 37-26 surge over the final 13:46 of regulation to secure the one-possession triumph.
Hiland (26-3) — which never trailed in the final 3:43 of regulation — advances to the program’s 10th state championship game Saturday afternoon when it battles Fort Loramie (26-3) for the Division IV state crown at 5:15 p.m. The seventh-ranked Lady Redskins defeated top-ranked Ottoville (27-1) by a 49-42 margin in overtime in the other D-4 state semifinal.
For HHS coach Dave Schlabach — who will be aiming for his fifth state title in 22 years on the Lady Hawks sideline — it was a classic example of surviving and advancing in postseason play. He was praiseful of his opponent afterwards, which made the final outcome all the more rewarding.
“We had to claw our way back and show a lot of toughness. Their supporting cast shot the ball a lot better than we anticipated, so we knew we were in for a great challenge right from the start,” Schlabach said. “In the end, I thought it came down to our depth and our defensive pressure. We’re real proud of our group because we showed a lot of pride and determination.
“Eastern was a physical challenge for us. They were here for a reason … they have a very good team.”
After the game, fifth-year EHS frontman John Burdette was equally praiseful of both his kids and his adversaries from Hiland. He had hoped for a different outcome, but also noted that his troops were thankful for such a rare opportunity.
“I thought both teams played well and that’s the way a state semifinal is supposed to be. I just wish we had been on the other end of it,” Burdette said. “Both teams played great, and this was probably the first game that we had been the underdog in … and we came out with no jitters.
“It’s a credit to our girls. We’ve played in some big games this year against some tough competition, and it paid off. I mean, there are 200 schools wishing they were here right now.”
Eastern — which became the first Southeast District state qualifier in Division IV history — wasted little time proving its worth, as the hosts hit their first three shots of the game to secure a 9-3 cushion in the opening 2:18 of the game.
The Lady Hawks rallied back to within a point (9-8) with 3:51 left in the first canto, but EHS closed the period with a 4-2 spurt to secure a 13-10 edge.
HHS managed to tie the contest at 13 after Regina Hochstetler capped a 3-0 run at the 6:53 mark of the second, but the Lady Eagles received consecutive baskets from Katie Keller and Jenna Burdette over the next 1:31 for a 17-13 cushion.
Jasmine Goings and Burdette traded baskets for a 19-15 contest at the 2:51 mark, and Hochstetler closed the first half scoring out with a basket with 46 seconds left — allowing Eastern to claim a 19-17 advantage headed into the intermission.
The Lady Eagles were fortunate to have a lead at the break, as the hosts committed a dozen turnovers in the first half — compared to just five by Hiland. EHS was 7-of-19 from the field in the first two stanzas, while the Lady Hawks made just 5-of-23 shot attempts before halftime.
Eastern opened the second half with a 6-0 surge to claim the largest lead of the night at 25-17 with 6:31 left in the third quarter. Burdette netted a pair of baskets around an Erin Swatzel field goal to establish that eight-point cushion.
At that point, Hiland had to go to work — and that is exactly what the four-time state champion did.
The Lady Hawks responded with a 10-0 run over the next 1:40, allowing the guests to secure their first lead since the opening minute of regulation at 27-25 with 4:50 left in the canto. EHS countered with a Maddie Rigsby bucket at the 4:30 mark to knot things up at 27-all, which started an exchange of six leads and two ties over the next three-plus minutes.
Tied at 35-all, Savannah Hawley converted a basket with 31 seconds left in the third period — which allowed the Lady Eagles to claim a 37-35 edge headed into the finale.
There were four lead changes and two ties in the first three minutes of the final period, and Jordan Parker netted a pair of free throws at the 5:01 mark to reclaim Eastern’s final lead of the night at 44-43. Maddie Rigsby extended that edge out to 46-43 with 4:35 remaining, but EHS then went scoreless over the next 2:25 of the contest.
Jasmine Goings sank a pair of free throws with 3:43 left to give HHS a 47-46 advantage, then Hochstetler sank two freebies and Goings added a basket at the 2:18 mark — giving Hiland its largest lead of the night at 51-46.
The Lady Eagles countered with a Parker basket and both a free throw and basket by Burdette to knot things up at 51-all with 1:21 left in regulation. EHS was never closer and ultimately didn’t score the rest of the way.
Hochstetler hit a bucket with 58 seconds remaining to give Hiland a permanent lead at 53-51, then sank a free throw for a three-point cushion with 28.7 seconds left.
Eastern — which missed a few scoring opportunities during that stretch — caught a big break with 13.8 ticks left in the game after Goings missed a pair of freebies that would have all but iced the game. Eastern grabbed the rebound, dribbled to midcourt and called timeout — giving the hosts one last chance to knot things up.
The Lady Eagles, however, missed their big chance after the team’s 20th turnover of the night came back to haunt them, as an errant pass by Jenna Burdette ended up going out of bounds with one second left on the clock.
Hiland successfully inbounded the ball on its ensuing possession, the time quickly elapsed and Eastern’s inaugural run to the state tournament was over — all in the span of a blink of the eye.
Hiland — which finished the year ranked second in the AP poll — committed only two turnovers in the second half and finished the night with seven total miscues. The guests were also limited to 18-of-53 shooting overall for 34 percent, including a 4-of-13 effort from three-point range for 31 percent.
Regina Hochstetler paced HHS with a game-high 24 points, 17 of which came in the pivotal second half. Kendra Schlabach and Jasmine Goings were next with nine points apiece, while Jenica Schrock added four markers to the winning cause.
Megan Beachy and Sasha Goings each contributed three points, while Natalie Nickol rounded out the scoring with two markers. Hiland was 14-of-23 at the charity stripe for 61 percent.
Eastern made 21-of-45 field goal attempts for 47 percent, including a 4-of-17 effort from three-point range for 24 percent. The hosts outrebounded the Lady Hawks by a 38-27 overall margin, but Hiland claimed an 11-8 edge on the offensive glass.
Jenna Burdette led the Lady Eagles with 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, followed by Jordan Parker with 18 points. Savannah Hawley and Maddie Rigsby respectively added five and four markers, while Erin Swatzel and Katie Keller rounded out the scoring with two points apiece.
The Lady Eagles — who finished the season ranked 10th in the final AP poll — will have four starters and seven of their nine varsity players returning next year, but they also have to say goodbye to a pair of critical pieces to this year’s squad. Saturday proved to be the final basketball game for seniors Savannah Hawley and Tori Goble in the Green and Gold.
John Burdette spoke about his two seniors and the value of what they brought to this magical season. He also wanted to express his gratitude not only to his upperclassmen, but to his entire squad and all of those who helped make this year so special.
“They are a heck of a group of kids,” Burdette said. “I’m just really proud of the girls and our community. It’s been a great feeling, now we just have to get back here.
“My two seniors, they go at it all the time. Tori and Savannah are two kids that any coach would want on their team because they don’t quit. They played big roles on this team and we are definitely going to miss them.”
The Lady Eagles set a school record this winter for wins in a season with 23, one more than the previous mark set by the 2010-11 squad that went 22-3 en route to reaching the program’s first-ever regional final. It is also the third time in the last four years that EHS has won at least 20 games in a season.