NEW CARLISLE — All season Dave Honhart has been wanting his team to start games fast and finish strong.
His Eaton girls’ basketball team didn’t start off as fast as he wanted, but they closed in impressive fashion as the No. 3 seeded Eagles pulled away from tenth-seeded Graham for a 52-39 win in a Tecumseh Division II sectional final on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
With the win, Eaton (19-5) advanced to its second straight district semifinal. The Eagles were scheduled to play No. 2 seed Trotwood-Madison on Monday, Feb. 24.
“Watching film, as a staff, we thought Graham was much better than their record. Their stats were good, they were in almost every game, and they looked like a team that would compete their tails off. Playing them confirmed that evaluation,” he said. “We accomplished 9 of our 12 game goals (a season high) yet this game was still in doubt late into the fourth quarter.”
Although Eaton never trailed in the game, the Eagles were never able to put the Falcons away until the final quarter.
Leading 34-30 after three, Eaton outscored Graham 18-9 over the final eight minutes to claims its fourth straight win.
“While Graham deserves credit for fighting their way back into the game on multiple occasions, our players deserve lots of credit for handling pressure-packed situations with poise,” Honhart said. “We consistently answered their runs. Every time they cut the margin down to a two-possession game, we scored on the next possession. After a third quarter where we struggled, especially the last four minutes, winning the fourth quarter 18-9 reflected our ability to finish strong and perform at crunch time.”
Sophomore Allison Mowen dropped three clutch three-pointers and found senior Bailey Shepherd streaking down the floor in transition on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter.
“Give Bailey a lot of credit for continuing to run hard. For the first 24 minutes, Graham did a great job of keeping her from getting behind them, but eventually her persistence paid off,” Honhart said. “Allison also made 4 of 5 free throws in the final minutes to post a career high 19 points, along with 7 assists against only 1 turnover. Rebounding was a key, as Graham had size and strength.”
Freshman Olivia Baumann corralled a career high 13 rebounds, while senior Ashley Earley collected eight, to go with her career-high 11 points.
Lexi Miller played well, dishing out 2 assists with no turnovers.
“During the minutes Lexi played, we outscored Graham by 16 points, which reflects the fact that she does lots of things to help us that don’t always show up in the stats,” Honhart said. “It is not always easy to win playoff games as the higher seed, as all the pressure is on you, but we prevailed and once again, we survive and advance. I was very proud of the grit, persistence and poise that our team showed.”
Sophomore Mara Posey came off the bench and added three points and grabbed five rebounds.
Eaton held a 13-7 lead after the first quarter with Earley scoring six of her points in the quarter. Eaton opened its biggest lead of the game, 24-11, with just under three minutes left in the first half. The Falcons, though, rallied to close within 24-19 with 25 second left. Early knocked down a pair of free throws to give Eaton a 26-19 halftime lead.
In the third, Graham outscored the Eagles 11-8 to get within 34-30 with eight minutes remaining. Shepherd scored six of her 16 points in the quarter.
A quick 5-0 run for Eaton made it a 39-30 game with 7:07 to play. Graham never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Shepherd added four more in the quarter and Mowen scored 13 of her 19 in the final frame.
Eaton will meet a familiar foe in the district semifinal in Trotwood-Madison.
“This should be a fun game. We scrimmage them every year and usually it is fun, competitive basketball,” Honhart said. “Both teams like the open court game and like to race the ball and attack the rim, so it should be an exciting game to be a part of. They have two guards that are great scorers in Q Huffman and Raeven Raye Redmond. Both shoot the 3 well, they create well and they are constantly pursuing the ball on defense. Goddess McIntyre is a nice inside presence for them. We will have to do a good job of keeping them off the boards and attacking their pressure. We are excited to be back in our second straight Sectional Final, and it is cool to go against a team we know from our annual scrimmages, and a program we have a lot of respect for.”
The winner advances to the D-II district final on Friday, Feb. 28, at Mason High School to play either Hamilton Badin or Carroll.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or follow on Twitter @emowen_RH