SPRINGFIELD — It was a postseason run not many expected of Eaton’s girls basketball team.
The Eagles, who finished the regular season with just seven wins, clicked at just the right time to win a sectional championship before falling to the state’s top-ranked team, Carroll, in the district semifinals, 65-30, on Monday, Feb. 25.
The tournament run ties the deepest any Eaton’s girls basketball team has made in program history.
A recent change by the Southwest District Athletic Board meant the Eagles win over Bellefontaine in the second round was considered a sectional final, while the traditional third game is now the district semifinal.
“I’m proud of the way our kids competed against one of the best team’s in the state,” Eaton coach Dave Honhart said.
Eaton got off to a slow start, falling behind 7-0 early and was down 16-4 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
The Eagles, though, closed out the first quarter on a 7-2 run on a 3-pointer by freshman Allison Mowen and back-to-back baskets by junior Ashley Earley to close the gap to 18-11.
Carroll opened the second on the second with a 4-0 run to extend its lead to double-digits (22-11).
Five straight points by Eaton senior Emily Dungan, who led the team with nine points and had three rebounds and two assists, made it a six-point game (22-16) with 4:50 left in the half.
“There was a moment early, we just came out tight, and when you’re tight you’re slow and the other team’s quicker that you,” Honhart said. “It looked like we could get blown out early and then we calmed down and we attacked them. We found some basket drives and we had it back down to six and at that moment we were right back in it and we were competing with them.”
But for the remainder of the half, the Patriots showed why they are the No. 1 ranked team in the state.
Carroll closed the half on a 16-4 run to take a 38-20 halftime lead.
“Carroll’s just so good and so disciplined and in a blink of an eye, all of sudden, it’s back to double figures. It wasn’t for lack of trying on our part,” Honhart said. “It’s just skill and teamwork on Carroll’s end.”
Any hopes of a third straight upset for Eaton ended in the third quarter as the Eagles went nearly five minutes with a point. During that time, Carroll extended its lead to 46-20. Allison Mowen’s 3-pointer finally broke the Eagles dry-spell. By the time senior Annika Gels connected on a 3-pointer late in the quarter, Eaton faced a 30-point deficit.
Mowen finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists. Earley had six points and three rebounds.
Gels added five points and three rebounds.
Junior Bailey Shepherd had six rebounds to lead the team.
Despite the loss Honhart said he was proud of his team.
“Very, very proud to earn our way to this game,” he said. “Proud of our seniors and the leadership that they brought and for everyone else this gives you an idea of what a sectional final (district semifinal) is like and the level it takes to win. That should provide some fire for the off season.”
Eaton finished the regular season 7-15 and was the lower seeded team in its first two tournament games — wins over Ponitz and Bellefontaine — but hit its stride and played some of its best basketball during the tournament.
“The run was awesome. In a basketball season, whether you’re talking college, high school or pro, you go through lulls and you go through your surges. Sometimes teams peak too soon and unfortunately we hit our lull at exactly the wrong time. We got beat by some teams we didn’t think we should have gotten beat by. But we just weren’t clicking right then,” Honhart said. “Yet, we surged and peaked at exactly the right time. The Ponitz team we beat in playoffs is far better than the one we beat earlier in the season. Bellefontaine is a team a lot like us. They play in a really tough division in a really tough league. Their record doesn’t show how good they are and we flat out imposed our well on them. Those were our two best games of the season. Not a lot of teams peak at playoff time, we did and that was a really fun two weeks.”
Eaton (9-16) will graduate four seniors, Dungan, Gels, Becca Mowen and Anna Black, and Honhart said all will be missed.
“As a class it has been a privilege to coach the four of them,” he said. “I love them all dearly.”
Black played as a sophomore, but sat out last year before returning to the program this season.
“Anna put a lot of time and energy into this season. Didn’t wind up having the season on the floor that she had hoped for, but certainly not a lack of trying. Unfortunately, she was out the last few weeks (due to an injury),” he said. “What a great kid who plays her role. Highly likeable and such a great person to have as part of a team.”
Dungan has played a key role since her freshman season.
“Emily is an incredible competitor. She came off the bench today and I though she changed the tempo in the game,” he said. “Emily does not back down. Period. That serves her very well most of the time on the floor. She played her best basketball in playoffs. That’s just a tribute to her competitive spirit. We knock heads at times but I absolutely love the girl. I love coaching her.”
Gels is a team captain and three-year varsity player.
“Annika is the most versatile player on our team,” Honhart said. “Probably has the best combination of fire and poise in terms of leadership. Learned to be a three-point shooter, a point guard, while still scoring on people six inches taller than her in the post. Such a cerebral, smart player and wonderful competitor.
Becca Mowen has been a team captain since her sophomore year and is a four-year varsity player.
“Becca is one of the best leaders I have ever coached. She’s been a captain since (her) sophomore (year),” Honhart said. “She’s a kid who truly cares more about winning than her own performance. She is everybody else’s biggest fan. At times, she needs to be her own biggest fan. She hurt herself a couple of days ago and played through pain and no one would have known because she is just that tough. She is the heart and soul of our defense and her ability to read interior passing lanes while protecting the rim make a huge difference in our ability to defend, along with her non-stop communication.”
Honhart said he enjoyed coaching this team and said the future looks bright for the program.
“It’s been such a privilege to coach this team. I’ve had an outstanding coaching staff who has put everything into it. That’s really what we tried to do today – empty the tank and put everything physically, mentally, emotionally into the game that we had. We did. We just got beat by a better team,” he said. “Our JV team went 18-4. Coach (Maggie) Neanen did an awesome job with them. Our eighth grade team is very strong, so yes, the future is bright, but they have to put the time in. Those who played in this game understand the level it takes and they’ve got to share that with everyone else and go to work.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH