NEW CARLISLE — Eaton girls’ basketball coach Dave Honhart thought his team matched up well with No. 3 seed Springfield Shawnee.
And for just a little more than three quarters, the No. 8 seeded Eagles were on the verge of pulling the upset in the first round of the Division II sectional tournament on Saturday, Feb. 17, at Tecumseh High School.
But a cold shooting fourth quarter (1-for-13) and multiple defensive lapses proved costly as the Eagles saw their season come to an end with a 39-25 loss.
Eaton ends the season 7-16.
“I was very proud of the way my team played, especially for the first two-and-a-half quarters. We had an excellent week of preparation and our players really bought into the game plan,” Honhart said. “We knew it would be a slow-paced game and we would have to be patient. Shawnee is one of the most balanced, patient, fundamental and physical teams teams we have played all season.”
Eaton’s defense was solid for most of the game, holding the Braves nearly 10 points under their season average. The Eagles forced Shawnee into 16 turnovers.
“To get 10 steals in the half court against a team that passes it as well as they do was really impressive. We did it by understanding the scouting report, pressuring the ball and clogging the passing lanes and playing as a team. We held our own on the boards and took good care of the ball with only 13 turnovers — which has often been a struggle for us,” Honhart said.
Eaton took a 19-17 lead on a 3-pointer from junior Annika Gels with just over six minutes left in the third quarter. But a minute later the Braves regained the lead for good.
“When Annika Gels gave us a two point lead early in the third quarter with a 3-pointer, I really thought we were going to pull off the upset,” Honhart said. “From there, Shawnee outscored us 9-3 over the rest of the quarter by capitalizing on a couple of defensive mistakes we made.”
Eaton entered the fourth quarter only down four.
“We started the fourth quarter down 26-22, but still felt good about our chances. We’ve been a strong fourth quarter team all season,” Honhart said. “Unfortunately, Lizzie Weaver hit a contested three-pointer on their first possession, which pushed the lead to 29-22, but as tough as it was for us to score against their defense, that seven-point lead felt pretty big. Weaver is a great 3-point shooter. Our players knew she was the one player we had to close out long against, and throughout the game, we really did a good job of adjusting our close outs based on their personnel.”
Eaton closed to within 29-23 with 6:30 to play, but didn’t score again until there was a minute left in the game and by that time Shawnee had taken a 39-23 lead, mostly due to defensive breakdowns by the Eagles.
“We started to force things a little bit at both ends and Shawnee was able to pull away. While we played well, we did not shoot well — much of that credit has to go to Shawnee,” Honhart said. “They were well-prepared for us and really play tough half court defense. We chose to play them because we knew we matched up well and would have a chance, but they are a very good team that has had an outstanding season. They are well-coached and I wish them luck in the tournament.”
Eaton made just 8-of-46 shot attempts and was 3-for-16 from 3-point range for the game.
Junion Emily Dungan led the Eagles with nine points and six rebounds, while sophomore Alexis Miller tossed in five points and grabbed five rebounds.
Honhart said despite his team finishing with a below .500 record he saw improvement along the way.
“While the record doesn’t necessarily show it, we really improved a lot this year, both over the course of the season and from where we were a year ago. Our league is as strong as its been in a while right now. The National Trail and Edgewood games were both indicative of our improvement from a year ago,” he said. “We started the season short on guards with younger players learning how to play at this level. I think we have some young players that we can build around in the future, a group of rising seniors that will have a lot of experience and knows how to compete. We will also have a group of talented incoming freshmen that will be coming in and looking to earn contributing roles on varsity right away. Competition always brings out the best in people, so I am excited to see who really goes to work over the off-season and comes back much-improved in the Fall. Minutes will be a premium and will have to be earned through off-season improvement.”
Honhart said this year’s three seniors — Bailee Worley, Kurstin Frost and Ashton Staight — will be missed.
“Our class of 2018 seniors leave a legacy of hard work. Bailee Worley played some of her best basketball at the end of the season. She was a tireless competitor throughout her career who grew into a strong quarterback and was a constant defensive presence. Kurstin Frost improved tremendously throughout her career. She become a strong passer and really grew to understand the game at a high level. After struggling with her shot for the first half of the season, she made 9 of 15 three-pointers over the last 12 games of the season. Ashton Staight did not get to play a lot this season, but she made us better in practice every day,” Honhart said. “All three of them were consistently very dedicated in the off-season and they can all say they reached their potential through dedicated effort. Not once in four years do I every remember having to get on any of the three of them about effort. They have shown the way for future Eaton girls basketball players.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH