JACKSON, Ohio — There’s no doubt that Thursday evening’s Division IV district final between Portsmouth Notre Dame and Eastern will go down as a classic, it just wasn’t necessarily instant classic.
It took 40 minutes, four eight-minute quarters followed by a pair of four-minute overtime periods. In that time there were six lead changes and 11 ties, and once the dust settled, the Lady Eagles had earned the right to be called district champions once again.
EHS claimed its eighth all-time district crown, its first since 2014, as the no. 2 seed Lady Eagles took a 58-53 victory over the top-seeded Lady Titans, at Jackson High School in the Apple City.
“The fact that we’re a district champion is great, but the way our girls played with heart, that’s what makes me more excited,” said first-year EHS head coach Jacob Parker. “There’s a lot of teams that can’t give that, and our girls flat out gave it all tonight.”
The Lady Eagles (21-3) never trailed in the opening stanza, leading by as much as five, at 11-6, midway through the period. Notre Dame (23-2) fought back to tie the game at 12 and again at 14 by the end of the quarter.
NDHS tied the game three times in the second quarter, before the Lady Titans grabbed their first lead of the game, at 25-23, with 2:06 left in the first half.
The Notre Dame lead lasted for only 22 seconds, as a Laura Pullins three-pointer gave EHS the lead back with 1:44 left in the half. Eastern outscored its foe 4-to-3 over the remainder of the period, giving the Green, White and Gold a 30-28 lead at halftime.
In the first half, Eastern shot 50 percent from the field, while NDHS hit 36 percent of its field goal tries.
The Lady Eagles began the second half with an 8-0 run, pushing their lead to a game-high 10 points, at 38-28. However, Eastern was scoreless for the next 6:10.
Notre Dame hit three straight two-pointers to end the third quarter, pulling within four points, at 38-34.
Eastern scored the only point of the first four minutes of the the fourth quarter, but the Lady Eagles didn’t make a field goal until inside the 1:30 mark.
Notre Dame took a 40-39 lead on an old-fashioned three-pointer by senior Hagen Schaefer, with 2:07 left in regulation. The Lady Titans regained the advantage just seven seconds after Eastern junior center Elizabeth Collins was called for her fifth foul.
Laura Pullins — who scored a game-high 34 points including all six of the Lady Eagles’ fourth quarter markers — hit a three-pointer on an assist from Alyson Bailey with 1:24 remaining in the fourth. The trifecta gave EHS a 42-40 lead and was Eastern’s first field goal in over nine minutes.
NDHS tied the game at 42, with 40 seconds left, but EHS reestablished the two-point advantage just 18 seconds later. With seven seconds left in the quarter, NDHS junior Lexi Smith hit a two-pointer on an assist from Schaefer, tying the game at 44 and forcing overtime.
The Lady Titans stuck first in the extra session, as Schaefer made a put back basket with 3:09 remaining. Laura Pullins sank back-to-back free throws to tie the game at 46 with 1:59 to play, but Notre Dame sophomore Katie Dettwiller made a two-pointer just 19 seconds later to reestablish the NDHS lead.
With 52 seconds left in the first overtime, EHS sophomore Jess Parker tied the game on a two-pointer, Eastern’s only field goal of the four-minute frame.
Molly Hoover made 1-of-2 free throws just four seconds later, making the Notre Dame lead 49-48. EHS sophomore Kelsey Casto tied the game up at the line with 37 seconds left, and the score stayed tied at 49 for the remainder of the stanza.
In the second overtime, NDHS again struck first on a two-pointer by Dettwiller. Eastern tied the game at 51 with 2:44 remaining on a two-pointer by Laura Pullins, who had all of Eastern’s points in the second overtime period.
Notre Dame was back up by two with 2:14 to play, on a field goal by Smith. With 1:58 left, Becca Pullins assisted on a Laura Pullins trifecta, giving EHS the advantage at 54-53, a lead it never relinquished.
With 40 seconds to play, Laura Pullins came up with a steal, leading to a breakaway layup that extended the Lady Eagle lead to 56-53. The EHS senior then hit 2-of-2 free throws with 19 seconds left to seal the 58-53 victory.
“She’s a senior, she doesn’t want it to end,” Coach Parker said of Laura Pullins, who scored 23 of the Lady Eagles’ 28 points after halftime. “She gave everything, then found the reserve tank and gave all of it, and then gave some. She pulled a senior effort tonight, that’s the only way to describe it.”
Laura Pullins, along with injured senior Hannah Bailey, now has two district championships, as both were a part of Eastern’s 2014 state championship team.
“I knew being a senior that I had to step up,” said Laura Pullins. “I just keep reverting back to when we were at regionals my freshman year and how hard those seniors had to work to get there. I’m trying to follow in their foot steps and lead my team there too. I want to do big things and we can do big things as a team.”
In addition to Laura’s career scoring night, she pulled in a game-best 14 rebounds, while leading the EHS defense with four steals and one blocked shot.
Becca Pullins scored nine points, pulled in six rebounds and dished out three assists for the victors, while Alyson Bailey marked eight points and a team-best six assists, to go with a pair of steals on the defensive end.
Jess Parker scored six points and added three assists for EHS, Casto finished with one point, while Collins hauled in eight rebounds.
Notre Dame — which held a distinct size advantage with three girls listed at 6-foot-or-taller — won the rebounding battle by just two, at 36-34, with a 15-to-9 edge on the offensive glass.
“If anything it disrupts a lot of shots,” Coach Parker said of the Notre Dame’s size advantage. “Our guards drive the ball really well, but they’ve never driven it into the land of the trees like that. I commend the girls on finding ways to still score. Tonight, we matured a lot and it was great to see.”
Notre Dame committed 21 turnovers in the setback, including three over the final four minutes. Eastern — which gave the ball away 20 times in the win — didn’t commit a single turnover in the second overtime stanza.
Notre Dame held a 6-to-3 advantage in blocked shots and a 16-to-14 edge in assists, while EHS won the steals battle by a 9-to-6 count.
For the game, the Lady Eagles shot 20-of-52 (38.5 percent) from the field, including 6-of-20 (30 percent) from three-point range. Meanwhile, NDHS was 23-of-57 (40.4 percent) from the field, including 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
From the free throw line, Eastern was 12-of-19 (63.2 percent), while Notre Dame was 6-of-21 (28.6 percent), including 2-of-12 in the fourth quarter.
Smith led the Lady Titans with a double-double effort of 26 points and 13 rebounds. Dettwiller — a 6-foot-3 sophomore — scored 12 points and hauled in eight rebounds, while Schaefer scored seven points in the setback. Taylor Schmidt marked five points and five assists for NDHS, while Hoover contributed three points and six assists.
Dettwiller led the Notre Dame defense with six blocked shots, followed by Hoover with four steals.
Notre Dame — which had only lost to Wheelersburg prior to Thursday — will have to say farewell to seniors Hagen Schaefer and Catelynn Ball.
Eastern has now eliminated Notre Dame in three of the last four postseasons, knocking off the Lady Titans by a 52-43 final in overtime in the 2015 district semifinal, and defeating NDHS by a 91-35 final in the 2014 district semifinal.
EHS has now won district titles in 2017, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2004, 1999 and 1995.
Eastern will be welcomed back to the sweet 16 by a familiar face, as the Lady Eagles will take on Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division rival Waterford in the regional semifinal, at Jackson High School on Thursday.
The Lady Wildcats — who were 2-0 against EHS in the regular season — slipped past South Webster by a 41-40 clip in overtime, in Thursday night’s district final at JHS.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.