PICKERINGTON, Ohio — One down, one to go.
The Eastern girls basketball team is headed to the Elite 8 for the second time in three years following a 63-47 victory over Sycamore Mohawk Thursday night in a Division IV regional semifinal contest at Pickerington High School North in Fairfield County.
The Lady Eagles (22-4) trailed by seven points midway through the third quarter, but the Green and White rallied with an impressive 31-8 surge over the final 12:09 of regulation to secure the program’s second regional final appearance in school history.
With the triumph, EHS advances to the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at PHSN — where it will face Newark Catholic for a spot in the D-4 Final Four. The Green Wave (24-2) earned their weekend ticket by holding off Waterford in the second semifinal by a 52-50 count.
The Lady Eagles made the most of their collective height advantage, as the hosts claimed a 34-25 overall advantage in rebounding — including a 19-9 edge on the offensive glass. EHS also made 7-of-13 field goal attempts down the stretch while limiting the Lady Warriors (21-5) to just 1-of-11 shooting in crunch time.
For fifth-year Eastern coach John Burdette, it was a fitting end for his team —which is holding its postseason opposition to an average of 29.3 points per game through four contests. The Lady Eagles are also putting up 67.8 points a night over that same span.
“That’s what wins these ball games, plain and simple, defense and rebounding,” Burdette said. “I thought the girls played pretty good defense, but every time we slacked … Mohawk capitalized. We were able to get that straightened out, and I ultimately think that we were able to wear them down.
“All in all, I thought we played a really good game. We never deviated from our game plan, and it worked.”
Mohawk — which was making the school’s first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16 — kept pace with Eastern throughout the contest, as both teams battled through five ties and nine lead changes in the 32-minute affair. MHS also became the only team to lead the Lady Eagles this postseason after halftime.
There were seven lead changes and four ties in the first half alone, but EHS managed to claim a pair of four-point edges after each of the first two quarters of play. Eastern led 16-12 after eight minutes and took a 30-26 cushion into the intermission.
The Lady Warriors made their biggest charge of the night in the third canto, as the guests hit their first five shots en route to their largest lead of the night at 39-32 with 4:26 remaining. It was from that point on that Eastern owned the hardwood, even though Mohawk led at the end of the period.
Jenna Burdette made a basket at the 4:09 mark, which sparked the decisive 31-8 run that ultimately decided the outcome. The bucket also started a 9-2 run to close the stanza, allowing EHS to cut its deficit down to 43-41 headed into the finale.
The Lady Eagles got a pair of free throws from Jordan Parker at the 7:37 mark to knot the game at 43, then Burdette secured a permanent lead for the hosts at the 7:10 mark after a layup gave EHS a 45-43 cushion.
Mohawk — which was outscored 22-4 in the fourth quarter — never came closer than 47-45 with 6:35 left in regulation, and the Lady Eagles retaliated with a 10-2 surge over the next 3:40 to claim the first double-digit advantage of the night at 57-47 with 2:55 remaining.
Eastern — which held MHS scoreless over the final 5:07 of regulation — closed the game with a 6-0 spurt to wrap up the 16-point triumph.
The Lady Warriors made just one of their final 12 field goal attempts overall, while the hosts netted nine of their last 16 tries. Eastern also forced seven fourth quarter turnovers while committing just two itself. EHS also had six different players score points during the final 12-plus minutes of regulation.
“That’s just a tribute to the girls. When they come out and set their minds to playing defense, they’ll play defense,” Burdette said. “All of the girls played well tonight. We played like we practice, and this is what we practice for.”
Mohawk committed 19 turnovers total in the setback, compared to only eight by the Lady Eagles. The Lady Warriors were 14-of-16 at the charity stripe for 88 percent, while the hosts netted 11-of-20 free throw attempts for 55 percent.
Eastern connected on 25-of-57 field goal attempts for 44 percent, including an uncharacteristic 2-of-14 effort from three-point territory for 14 percent. EHS missed 10 straight trifecta tries through three quarters of play before netting 2-of-4 threes in the fourth.
Jenna Burdette led the Lady Eagles with a game-high 22 points, followed by Erin Swatzel with 13 points and Maddie Rigsby with 10 markers. Jordan Parker and Katie Keller respectively chipped in nine and seven points, while Savannah Hawley rounded things out with two markers.
Taylor Palmer, Tori Goble and Morgan Barringer also saw some minutes for the hosts, but did not score. Burdette led EHS with nine rebounds and five assists as well.
Mohawk sank 14-of-39 shot attempts for 36 percent overall, including a 5-of-15 effort from behind the arc for 33 percent. The guests were 13-of-28 from the field (46 percent) through three quarters of play.
Lynsey Trusty paced MHS with 16 points, followed by Julie Adelsperger with 12 points and Sarah Parker with 10 markers. Ashley Parker and Megan Cleveland rounded out the respective scoring with seven and two points.
Eastern and Newark Catholic were the only teams in this regional to finish the season ranked in the Division IV AP poll. EHS was 10th in the final vote, while the Green Wave came away with the No. 4 ranking.
NCHS has been to the state tournament twice before, which includes a title in 1984 and a Final Four appearance in 1987. The Green Wave last participated in a regional final 27 years ago.
Eastern, on the other hand, has never advanced to the state tournament, but these Lady Eagles have at least played in a regional final before.
“I think the girls are excited. I know they are excited,” Burdette said. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was getting to state. We realize that we are one game away, and that we have got to get through this next one. We’ll be ready to go Saturday.”
Eastern has only three state appearances in school history for girls’ team sports. The volleyball squad made it to Fairborn in 2011, while the softball program appeared in both the 1985 and 2001 Final Fours.