COLUMBUS, Ohio — To be the man, you have to beat the man.
And headed into this weekend’s 39th annual OHSAA girls basketball championships, Fort Loramie is ‘the man’ in Division IV.
Eastern’s pursuit of the school’s first state title begins with a bout against reigning D-4 champion Fort Loramie, as a pair of repeat state qualifiers battle it out in the second of two semifinal matchups Thursday night at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University.
Both the Lady Eagles (25-1) and defending champion Lady Redskins (26-2) have been here before, as each faced Berlin Hiland in last year’s Final Four. EHS dropped a heartbreaking 54-51 decision to the Lady Hawks in the program’s first-ever state semifinal, but Fort Loramie had all the answers for HHS in the finale — a 57-42 victory that gave the program its first-ever state crown.
The Lady Redskins are making their fourth trip to the state semis in the last five postseasons, as well as the program’s eighth overall trip to the Final Four. The Red and Black earned runner-up honors in both 1997 and 2011, and also competed at state in 1979, 1991, 2005 and 2010.
FLHS has eight seniors on its 2014 roster and is led by a former player in Carla Siegel, who owns a 298-90 overall record in 15 seasons at the helm.
The Lady Redskins — who traditionally go 8-10 players deep every night — make things go with their defense, as the Red and Black have allowed an average of 35.8 points in 28 games this year. FLHS also scores 70.3 points per outing and has one of the most dynamic scorers in all of the state in senior Darian Rose.
Rose — a 5-foot-8 senior and the 2014 Southwest District POY — is the program’s all-time leading scorer and averaged 20.1 points per game this year, which included a career-high 39 points against Fairlawn in a 90-17 triumph on Nov. 30. Rose scored 40 points total in last year’s state title run, which led to her being named the Most Outstanding Player from the D-4 tournament in 2013.
Rose, however, is not the only scoring threat that Fort Loramie possesses as Jessica Boerger and Renae Meyer also average close to double digits per night. Boerger — a 5-10 sophomore guard — chips in 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per outing, while Meyer — a 5-11 senior post player — averages 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Lady Redskins.
Fort Loramie’s two losses this season both came on the road. It dropped a 65-51 decision at Minster on Dec. 21 and lost a 55-52 decision to Versailles on Jan. 21. Versailles (D-3) is the only state qualifier that FLHS has faced this winter.
The Lady Eagles, on the other hand, have faced three state qualifiers this season, which led to a 2-1 overall mark. EHS defeated fellow D-4 qualifier Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans 70-53 on Dec. 28 and also beat Boyd County (Ky.) 51-41 on Feb. 1 at the Huntington Invitational.
Eastern’s lone setback this year also came at the Huntington Invitational after dropping a 70-68 overtime decision to host Huntington St. Joseph on Jan. 31. Saint Joseph is currently in pursuit of its sixth straight Class A championship in West Virginia.
The Lady Eagles are led by sixth-year coach John Burdette, who owns a 121-30 overall mark during his tenure. Eastern enters the weekend with season averages of 75.8 points offensively and 30.1 defensively — both of which are tops in the D-4 bracket.
Eastern — which has won all 25 games this winter by double digits — is one of three remaining AP poll champions at the state tournament, joining Cincinnati Princeton (D-1) and Millersburg West Holmes (D-2). For the season, the Lady Eagles had six different players average at least eight points per contest.
The first D-4 semifinal Thursday pits Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans (26-1) against Holgate (23-4) in a battle of teams that haven’t been to state in a while. Rosecrans will be making its 10th overall appearance and first since 1998, while Holgate is making its fourth trip overall and first since 2003.
In fact, Eastern is the only D-4 program at the Final Four this year that hasn’t previously won a state championship. Rosecrans won titles in 1982, 1983 and 1992, while Holgate came away with the 2001 crown.
The Lady Bishops have four seniors averaging double digits, with 5-10 forward Molly Nash leading that charge with 17 points per game. Forwards Kloie Johnson (5-8) and Maddie Chandler (5-9) are next with respective averages of 14 and 13 points, while guard Alexis Kirkbride chips in 11 points per outing.
Rosecrans is led by fifth-year coach Gale Kirkbride, who owns a 94-26 overall mark during her tenure. RHS averages 62 points per game offensively and allows 35.2 points per night as a defensive unit.
The Lady Tigers are led by 6-foot senior center Marissa Myles, who averages 13.8 points per game. Sophomore guard Sarah Niese (5-9) is next with a 9.9 average, followed by 5-8 junior forward Mattie Grim with 9.8 points per game. Senior guard Jillian Clady (5-5) also chips in 7.3 points per game for HHS.
Holgate is led by 11th-year frontman James Niece, who owns a 172-81 overall mark during his tenure. The Lady Tigers average 55.5 points per game offensively and also allow 41.2 points per night as a defense.
Holgate’s losses this year came to Wauseon (63-54), Edgerton (49-35), Pettisville (46-42) and Archbold (52-42). HHS has not faced a state-qualifying team yet this year.
Three of the four teams in the Division IV Final Four also finished the year ranked in the final AP poll. Eastern won the school’s first-ever poll, while Rosecrans finished third and Fort Loramie ended the year ninth overall.
The Holgate-Rosecrans game will tip-off at 6 p.m. Thursday, while EHS and Fort Loramie will battle in the second contest at 8 p.m. The Division IV championship game will be played at 2 p.m. Saturday.