TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — It’s almost like deja vu again … and everybody has something to prove.
Three of the four teams competing this weekend in the Division IV Southeast Regional girls basketball tournament were at Pickerington High School North a year ago for the exact same reason. And this time, three of those four schools are looking to change the final outcome.
The Eastern girls basketball team begins defense of its Region 15 championship against a familiar opponent Thursday night, as the AP poll champion Lady Eagles battle Waterford in a D-4 regional semifinal at Jackson High School.
The top-ranked Lady Eagles (23-1) had little trouble in getting back to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, as the Green and Gold won each of their three postseason games by at least 40 points. In fact, EHS has outscored its opponents by a 253-103 margin in the tournament — which averages out to 84.3 points for and 34.3 points against.
The Lady Eagles have also had success against the Lady Wildcats (18-7) this season, as EHS earned the program’s first season sweep since 2001 following wins of 65-36 and 75-44 this winter. Eastern is also the last team to defeat WHS, which owns a six-game winning streak headed into Thursday night.
The Lady Cats will be making their eighth trip to regionals in the last nine years, which includes a heartbreaking 52-50 loss to Newark Catholic in last year’s regional semifinal. Their streak at regionals was also snapped at six straight years in 2012 during a 47-43 setback to EHS in a district final at Jackson.
Waterford — a four-seed — got to the Sweet 16 after posting an impressive 68-34 win over Southern in the sectionals, then gutted out a 48-45 overtime win over Peebles and 44-42 triumph over South Webster in the districts.
The senior class at Eastern owns a 6-4 record against WHS in the last four years, which includes a perfect 2-0 mark in postseason play. The Lady Eagles also won a 65-54 decision in a 2011 regional semifinal at PHSN.
It will be the fourth consecutive postseason that Eastern and Waterford are the final two southeastern Ohio teams standing in the D-4 tournament, which has ultimately led to the Lady Eagles lasting at least one game longer.
EHS currently owns a two-game winning streak over the Lady Cats, but this senior class has never won three consecutive games against WHS during its four years together at the varsity level.
Tipoff of the D-4 regional semifinal at Jackson High School is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.
The other half of the Pickerington bracket will pit Newark Catholic against Milford Center Fairbanks in a regional semifinal at Pickerington High School North at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Green Wave (24-2) finished the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, just one point behind Eastern in the final tally. NCHS also has revenge on its mind after dropping a 57-56 decision to the Lady Eagles last year in the regional championship game.
Newark Catholic — which will be making its third consecutive regional appearance — has outscored its tournament foes by a 265-118 margin over four games, with the Green Wave winning those contests by an average of 36.8 points.
Jill Blacksten has led the way with an average of 24.8 points, followed by Ashleigh Parkinson with 18.5 points per game and Ivy Durbin with 8.3 points per outing.
The final D-4 entry is Fairbanks (15-11), which started the year with a 4-11 record before reeling off 11 consecutive victories. The Lady Panthers will be making just their second regional appearance (1994) in school history and have done so as a 12-seed in the district postseason.
Fairbanks is led by Michaela Henderson, who averages 18.8 points and 1.7 blocks per game. The Lady Panthers have outscored four tournament opponents by a 184-146 margin, which includes a pair of narrow wins over Worthington Christian (44-42) and Danville (42-38).
The two winners of these contests will face off at Pickerington High School North at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in the D-4 regional championship game.