COLUMBUS, Ohio — These underclassmen have some big shoes to fill, regardless of what color of footwear they choose.
The Eastern Lady Eagles graduate five seniors from their 2014 Division IV state championship squad, but that means seven state champions will be back in the Green and Gold next season.
Storied seniors Erin Swatzel, Katie Keller, Jenna Burdette, Jordan Parker and Maddie Rigsby led Eastern to its first-ever state title, but it wouldn’t have been possible with out season-long help from junior Lindsay Hupp, sophomore Morgan Barringer, and freshmen Laura Pullins, Alia Hayes, Hannah Barringer, Abbie Hawley and Hannah Bailey.
“For our underclassmen, right now is the greatest experience for them that they could imagine,” said EHS coach John Burdette. “I’m glad they get to share this because they bust their tails every day in practice. They get to see what hard work does and they are going to benefit a lot from this experience.”
After winning the district for the fourth consecutive season, Eastern faced archrival Waterford in the regional semifinal. The Lady Eagles, which had defeated WHS by 31 and 29 points in the two previous meetings of the season, struggled with the game plan put in place by Lady Cats coach Jerry Close — but still managed to defeat the Washington County natives by a count of 47-30.
The AP poll champion Lady Eagles then met with No. 2 Newark Catholic in the regional final, where EHS took care of business with a 62-52 victory over the Green Wave. Eastern advanced to its second consecutive final four with the win and matched up with defending state champion Fort Loramie.
A second half run boosted the Green and Gold past the Lady Redskins and EHS advanced to the state final. The Lady Eagles triumphed over Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans, 49-38 in the OHSAA Division IV girls championship, to give EHS the title and cement the legacy of these Lady Eagles.
Even though Eastern was led by its seniors, the Lady Eagle underclassman contributed 88 points this postseason — including 13 from freshman Laura Pullins at the state level.
“Without the seniors I wouldn’t be where I am now, they help me through everything” said Pullins. “We had it easy until we got to Waterford and Newark Catholic; Fort Loramie got our heart racing a little bit and when we got to the state championship we let them have it.
“Coach Burdette has told me all year that I need to get my leadership up because next year he said it would be on me, so I’ve been preparing all year with the seniors.”
Pullins — a 5-foot-10 guard — was a Southeast District honorable mention selection this season and marked 40 points this postseason.
In the final game at Belpre of the regular season, Eastern lost a key contributor off the bench when Alia Hayes suffered a knee injury. Hayes was lost for the postseason but the 5-7 freshman guard, who marked five points in the TVC Hocking clinching win over Belpre, remained upbeat and looks forward to her return next season.
“This means everything to me, even though I didn’t get a chance to play on the court I’m ecstatic for the seniors who got this win,” said Hayes. “I’m happy for everyone, even though I didn’t get a chance, it means just as much to me.
“In the offseason I’m going to work harder and train harder than ever before. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up from the seniors this year and take some of their knowledge into next year. They have taught me friendship and leadership and I have grown leaps and bounds by getting to play with these five seniors.”
Hayes marked two points in the Lady Eagles lone loss of the season to West Virginia Class A state champion Huntington St. Joe at the Huntington Invitational.
Senior Erin Swatzel picked up her fifth foul with 2:30 left in the the state semifinal, and with Katie Keller already disqualified on fouls, Eastern was forced to travel into its bench. Hannah Barringer was called on to play the remainder of the game.
Perhaps the play of the tournament happened with around a minute to go when Jenna Burdette tipped the ball to a wide open Hannah Barringer, who laid it in for two points. The field goal put EHS ahead 62-55 and helped the Lady Eagles advance to the state final.
“This means a lot, especially after all the work these girls have put in and that I have this season with them,” said Hannah Barringer, another freshman. “It’s a great accomplishment to say that I’ve been able to do this this season and I’m going to be able to tell everyone at home I’m a state champion.
“I have learned so much from these girls and it’s been amazing getting to play with them this year. They’ve helped me learn so much about basketball and I’ve grown so much this season with them.”
Hannah Barringer posted 13 points this postseason, second among EHS bench players.
These dozen Lady Eagles join the 10 girls on the 1976 Frankfort Adena team and the 12 girls on the 1994 Frankfort Adena team as the only 34 girls in southeastern Ohio that have played on an OHSAA girls basketball championship team.
Eastern is the 84th school in the state to claim a girls championship and the Lady Eagles are one of 57 schools with one state title.
EHS was one of three AP poll champions to win a state championship this year, joining Millersburg West Holmes in D-2 and Cincinnati Princeton in D-1 as the 23rd, 24th and 25th programs to accomplish the feat in the 30 years of the poll’s existence.
It was also the first time the first time during that span that three poll champions went on to win state titles in the same season.