Eastern girls finish 26-2 as state semifinalist –
By Wade Linville –
It’s been a season that will go down in the Eastern High School basketball record books for this year’s Eastern Lady Warriors, a season in which they overcame the odds to finish among the Final Four in Division III.
The Lady Warriors capped off their 2016-17 court campaign with an overall record of 26-2 as a OHSAA Division III State Tournament semifinalist.
The Lady Warriors’ finished an outstanding winter on the hardwood by falling to the Versailles Lady Tigers 58-34 in the state semifinals at Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center (Value City Arena).
Making it to the state tournament is something most teams only dream of, and although the Eastern Lady Warriors are proud of their accomplishments, they were not satisfied to return home from Columbus without the state title.
“We’re tickled! Twenty-six wins, that ties the school record. We are happy with it, (but) definitely not satisfied,” said Eastern head coach Kevin Pickerill. “This is a group of kids that, every night we walked on the floor, we felt like we were going to win, even when we were underdogs a lot of the times. I felt like we overcame some obstacles (in) that way and some adversity at the beginning of the season, and we came together.”
For the Eastern High School girls basketball program, it was the first time a team had made it to the Final Four since 2002, a team that went unranked in state polls but overcame the odds to claim the regional title at Logan High School and earn a berth in the state tourney.
For the No. 6 state ranked Versailles Lady Tigers, it was their third Final Four appearance in the past four years, a team that has been in the state tournament three of the past four years and winning state title in 2015.
The Lady Warriors were able to hang with the skilled Versailles team during the first period, trailing by only three (14-11) at the end of the quarter, but it was the second quarter when the Lady Tigers were able to widen the margin by outscoring the Lady Warriors 12-4 in the frame to hold a 26-15 lead at halftime.
The Lady Tigers rose to a 41-26 lead in the third quarter, outscoring the Lady Warriors 15-11 in the period.
The Lady Tigers capped off the 24-point victory by outscoring the Lady Warriors 17-8 in the fourth quarter.
With two 6’1” players and one six-footer under the basket, the Lady Warriors were rarely out-rebounded by opponents this season, but the Lady Tigers were able to match their size with 6’2” junior Danielle Winner and other key post players hammering the boards.
Versailles would pull down a total of 31 rebounds compared to Eastern’s 20.
The Lady Tigers also had fewer turnovers with 10 compared to Eastern’s 15.
The Versailles Lady Tigers would go on to suffer a 56-54 loss to Gates Mills Gilmour Academy in the OHSAA Division III State Championship game on March 18.
It was Eastern junior Allison Day leading the way in scoring for the Lady Warriors with 11 points, while sophomore teammate Morgan Reynolds finished with 10 points.
Eastern sophomore Alexa Pennington ended the game with seven points.
“Even after the game it doesn’t seem real that we actually played here,” Day said in a post-game interview following the Lady Warriors’ loss in the state semifinals. “When I was little I always thought ‘Man, those teams are good,’ and now we are one of those teams that got to play here.”
Versailles had four players to reach double figures in scoring, led by Winner and Camille Watren who finished with 14 points each.
“I thought they (Versailles) did a good job of stretching our defense out early by sinking a couple of three’s that brought us out of our saggy man-to-man defense,” said Pickerill.
After the Lady Warriors keyed in on Watren who got hot from beyond the arc early in the state semifinal contest, the Lady Tigers were able to get their inside game going.
“When they did that they were able to hammer the ball inside and really take advantage of us,” said Pickerill.
This year’s Lady Warriors managed to rise above early season expectations, and continued to improve as the season rolled along.
The Lady Warriors began their 2016-17 picked to finish runner-up in Southern Hills Athletic Conference Division I standings, but would claim the league title with a perfect conference record of 13-0, earning the SHAC Gold Ball.
After suffering only one loss through the entire regular season, winning the Brown County Holiday Classic Tournament along the way, the Lady Warriors rightfully earned the No. 1 seed for Southeast District Division III Sectional/District Tournament play.
The Lady Warriors dominated in sectional play for a 63-23 sectional championship win over No. 8 seed Rock Hill, then defeating No. 4 seed Nelsonville-York 45-21 in the district semifinals.
In the district championship bout at Waverly High School on March 3, the Lady Warriors rolled to a 40-27 win over Southeastern to earn a berth in the regional semifinals at Logan High School.
The Lady Warriors pulled off a 52-41 victory over Tuscarawas Valley in the regional semifinals, and they would advance to face the Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs in the regional championship game, marking the third time the two teams of the SHAC big school division competed during the 2016-17 season.
This marks Pickerill’s third year as head coach of the Eastern varsity girls program, and his Lady Warriors’ impressive post-season tourney run has earned him not only Associated Press Southeast District Coach of the Year honors and Southern Hills Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors, but he has also recently been named by the Associated Press as the All-Ohio Division III Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
Eastern’s 6’1” junior Allison Day was recently named the SHAC Player of the Year while also receiving honors that include Associated Press SE District Division III First Team and All-Ohio Division III Second Team.
Eastern’s 6’0” sophomore Alexa Pennington, in addition to SHAC All-Conference Team, has been named an All-Ohio Division III Honorable Mention, as well as being named to the Associated Press’ SE District Division III Second Team.
Eastern’s 6’0” junior Mikayla Farris, in addition to SHAC All-Conference honors, has been named to the Associated Press SE District Division III Third Team.
Also named to the SHAC All-Conference Team was Eastern’s junior guard Whitney Broughton.
In an exciting regional championship game at Logan, the Lady Warriors were able to pull through for a 46-42 win over Lynchburg-Clay in a game that saw the Lady Mustangs lead 11 points at halftime and Eastern come out to dominate the second half to advance to the Division III Final Four.
Fans from all over Brown County, and some from surrounding counties, turned out to support the Lady Warriors in their first state tournament appearance in 15 years.
This year’s Lady Warriors have made their mark in the Eastern record books as one of the best varsity girls basketball team in the history of the school’s basketball program.
Losing only two seniors to graduation and expected to return all starters for their 2017-18 basketball campaign, you can look for more success out of the Lady Warriors next year.
In around a month, the Lady Warriors will be back to work as a team to prepare for another impressive post-season tourney run next winter.
“We’ll grow on it, but like I told the kids, ‘There is nothing given.’ It’s a challenge to win a district title, and we were able to do that this year, but we’re going to work,” said Pickerill.