WATERFORD, Ohio — The crown jewel for the new queens of the TVC Hocking.
The Eastern girls basketball team officially ended Waterford’s historic nine-year reign as league champions Wednesday night with an impressive 75-44 victory in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division matchup at the Harry Cooper Annex in Washington County.
The Lady Eagles (19-1, 15-0 TVC Hocking) trailed 4-0 a minute and a half into regulation, but the guests battled through five lead changes and two ties to find themselves knotted up at 12-all with 1:52 left in the opening period.
Laura Pullins gave EHS a permanent lead (15-12) with a trifecta 31 seconds later, which sparked a 7-2 run and allowed the Lady Eagles to secure a 19-14 advantage after eight minutes of play. The host Lady ‘Cats (11-7, 10-2) were never closer the rest of the way.
Jenna Burdette scored seven of Eastern’s points during a 9-0 run to start the second, enabling the guests to double their lead out to 28-14 with 5:46 remaining in the half. EHS hit its first four field goals and forced three turnovers while also holding Waterford without a shot during the 2:14 span.
WHS — which committed 13 first-half turnovers — snapped a 3:35 scoreless drought after Mariah Starkey hit a field goal with five minutes left, trimming the hosts’ deficit down to a dozen at 28-16. Eastern retaliated with a 14-6 surge to close out the half, giving the Lady Eagles their largest lead of the opening 16 minutes at 42-22.
Eastern made 17-of-34 shot attempts and committed only four turnovers in the first half, while Waterford netted just 8-of-22 field goal tries for 36 percent before the break. WHS claimed a slim 15-14 edge in rebounding before the intermission, but the guests held a small 6-5 advantage on the offensive glass.
Taylor Hilverding scored the opening basket of the second half, allowing the hosts to trim the deficit down to 42-24 with 6:51 left in the third. WHS, however, was never closer from that point on.
The Lady Eagles made a 17-3 charge over the next five-plus minutes, allowing the guests to claim their largest lead of the third canto at 59-27 with 1:38 remaining. Waterford closed the frame with a 5-0 run to enter the finale trailing 59-32.
The Lady ‘Cats cut their deficit down to 61-36 after a basket by Mariah Starkey with 7:07 left in regulation, but Katie Keller capped a 10-2 run with a basket at the 3:11 mark — giving the guests their largest lead of the game at 73-38.
Waterford ended the final 2:08 of the contest with a 6-2 run, wrapping up the 31-point outcome.
The win allowed Eastern to secure its third TVC Hocking championship in four years, as well as the program’s fourth outright title and 10th league crown in school history. It is also the first time since the 2003-04 campaign that the Lady Wildcats have not earned at least a share of the TVC Hocking championship.
Waterford also had its home winning streak against league foes snapped at 60 consecutive games, which started with a victory over Miller in the league finale of the 2003-04 season. Trimble was the last team to previously win at WHS, which came in a 51-42 decision back on Jan. 17, 2004.
Afterwards, sixth-year Eastern coach John Burdette spoke about the significance of both the win and the outright league title for his troops.
“Waterford has a strong tradition and you always know it’s going to be a battle when you come up here,” Burdette said. “We talked before the game about how we had been in a position to win up here before, but just never got it done. We also talked about how long it had been since somebody other than Waterford had won an outright league title.
“Given the time frame and how much success they have enjoyed in the league over the last decade, that is what makes this a truly special accomplishment for our kids.”
It wasn’t smooth early on, as the Lady Eagles missed their first four shots while falling behind by a quick 4-0 count. Waterford made five of its first eight shot attempts and went 6-of-11 overall in the first quarter, but seven turnovers also prevented the hosts from staying closer toward the end of the period.
The difference in the outcome, according to Burdette, was the defensive tenacity that his kids demonstrated during that slow start.
“I thought our defense was pretty good tonight, particularly with the pace being as up-and-down as it was,” Burdette said. “The offense isn’t always going to be there, so the defense always has to be there. It kept us in the game early on until we found our stride there late in the first quarter, then things just sort of took off from there.”
Eastern outrebounded the hosts by a 30-24 overall margin, including an 11-7 edge on the offensive glass. Waterford committed 25 turnovers overall in the setback, compared to just eight giveaways by the guests.
The Lady Eagles connected on 29-of-63 shot attempts for 46 percent, which included a 9-of-22 effort from three-point range for 41 percent. EHS was also 8-of-10 at the free throw line for 80 percent.
Jenna Burdette led the victors with a game-high 28 points, 14 of which came during the pivotal second quarter. Erin Swatzel was next with 18 points, followed by Jordan Parker with 10 markers.
Maddie Rigsby and Katie Keller respectively chipped in eight and six points to the winning cause, while Laura Pullins rounded out the scoring with five markers.
Burdette hauled in a team-best seven rebounds, while Pullins added team-highs of five assists and five steals.
Waterford — which had won at least a share of 11 of the previous dozen TVC Hocking crowns — made 17-of-47 field goal attempts for 36 percent, including a 4-of-13 effort from three-point range for 31 percent. The hosts also netted 6-of-9 charity tosses for 67 percent.
Mariah Starkey paced the Lady ‘Cats with 15 points, followed by Dani Drayer with 10 points and Taylor Hilverding with seven markers.
The Lady Eagles claimed a season sweep of Waterford after posting a 65-36 victory at the Eagle’s Nest back on Jan. 9. Eastern’s last win at Waterford and last sweep of Waterford also came during its last outright championship season, which came under Paul Brannon in the 2000-01 campaign.
The 2003-04 Trimble squad was the last team to sweep Waterford in the regular season. Thursday also marked the first home loss in league for ninth-year WHS coach Jerry Close, who owns eight conference titles (six outright) and a career 105-5 overall record against the TVC Hocking.
“We’ve had a pretty good run over the last couple of years, and a lot of that is a testament to the kids who have come through this program during that time,” Close said in a humble manner. “That’s also a pretty special group of kids over there at Eastern.”
The senior class from EHS now owns a 6-4 career mark against the Lady Wildcats, which includes a pair of tournament victories in 2011 and 2012. Those seniors were also freshmen when Eastern snapped Waterford’s overall winning streak in league play at 48 games with a 57-55 decision in Tuppers Plains back on Dec. 6, 2010.
The Lady Eagles still have one TVC Hocking contest remaining at Belpre on Saturday. A win would allow the Green and Gold to capture its first unbeaten league crown since the 2000-01 season.
“This is a nice accomplishment for the girls, but we still have one more league game to get in before the tournament,” Burdette said. “We have to take care of business at Belpre this weekend. Even though the title is already ours, we still want to finish this thing out properly.”
Eastern previously won league titles in 1979, 1980, 1985, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2011 and 2013. The 1998, 1999 and 2001 squads each won outright championships in the TVC Hocking.
OVP sports writer Alex Hawley and Wellston athletic director Jeff Hendershott each contributed to this report.