NEW CARLISLE — After seeing a 19-point first quarter lead slip to single digits by halftime, fourth-seeded Eaton needed an energy boost.
They got it and then some.
That energy boost came in two forms — a quick pep talk from assistant coach Doug Mize just before the team took the floor to begin the third quarter and the play of senior guard of Kylee Pitsinger.
The result was a 61-42 win over No. 11 seed Bellefontaine on Saturday, Feb. 13, in the first round of the girls Division II sectional tournament at Tecumseh High School.
Eaton (9-14) is now scheduled to meet No. 7 seed Graham in sectional final on Thursday, Feb.18, at 5:30 p.m. The winner will advance to the district semifinals on Monday, Feb. 22.
Eaton shot 50 percent from the field in the first quarter and raced out to a 24-5 lead only to see the Lady Chiefs rally to get within 28-19 by halftime.
“I’ll give a shout out to Assistant Coach Doug Mize, who huddled the team up for a quick pep talk before they took the court. His words must have struck a cord because we had our edge back,” Eaton coach Dave Honhart said.
After Bellefontaine cut the Eagles lead to 28-21, Pitsinger and Company took over.
The senior guard scored 13 of her team-high 15 points in the quarter as Eaton pushed its lead to 22 by then end of the quarter (51-29).
“Kylee Pitsinger took the game over for us in the third quarter as she scored 13 points and got several steals. Really, however, her outstanding play began much earlier than that. In many ways, she set the tone at the start of the game with her rebounding, defense and passing,” Honhart said. “Kylee does such a great job of combining a love for competing with a team-first approach. She loves passing and setting up her teammates, but we’ve been on her to drive and shoot more in order to make it easy to pass. If everyone knows a player is more likely to pass than shoot or vice versa, she makes herself too easy to guard. Kylee has really made progress with striking this balance. One of Kylee’s favorite things to do is to serenade her teammates with her outstanding singing skills on bus rides home following road wins. It is a long bus ride home from Tecumseh. While Kylee probably isn’t going to be winning American Idol anytime soon, we all hope that we’ll get to hear some more of her singing.”
Pitsinger was 7-of-14 from the field on her way to scoring a career-high. She also added five steals, four rebounds and three assists.
The game looked to be over after the first quarter as Eaton opened with a 19-2 run in the first five minutes.
“This was a really fun game to coach for the most part. In the first quarter, I thought we shared the ball really well and created good looks for each other,” Honhart said. “Collectively, we caught fire shooting the ball, but that happened as a product of the teamwork. We probably got a little too comfortable in the second quarter with the big lead and we got away from doing the little things on offense that had led to good shots. Keeping our edge when we have success has definitely been a growing process throughout the year and we still have work to do. I was very proud of the way our team played in the third quarter – I thought it really showed growth.”
Eaton’s lead never fell below 15 in the fourth quarter.
Honhart said senior Alexis Miller, who scored eight points and had five rebounds, was a key factor in the fast start and overall it was solid team effort.
”Alexis Miller had one of the best practices of her career on Friday and twisted her ankle right at the end of practice. We weren’t sure if she was going to be able to play on Saturday. But she got us off to a great start by hitting two early three pointers and brought an inspired effort,” he said.
Junior guard Allison Mowen had eight points, three assists and six rebounds.
“She continues to become better and better with the basketball in her hands,” Honhart said.
Sophomore Olivia Baumann dominated the boards inside with 14 rebounds. She also added 11 points, three assists and a pair of steals.
“It is just fun to watch the way she attacks the ball,” Honhart said.
Sophomore Kendell Miller helped seal the game down the stretch.
“I was also really proud of Kendall Miller as she went six for six at the free throw line late in the game as Bellefontaine was trying to foul and rally,” Honhart said. “Kendall leads our team in free throw shooting, which is something she takes a lot of pride in. She had an off night at Carlisle last week, so to see her bounce back really made me glad. She puts in extra time working on her game, and she is just an absolutely incredible teammate. She brings intensity to everything she does and is always encouraging her teammates non-stop. She is an absolute joy to coach, and she is becoming a better and better basketball player.”
Sophomore Lily Shepherd chipped in with seven points.
Despite the large margin of victory, the Eagles still believe their best basketball is still ahead of them.
“Assistant Coach Maggie Neanen told the team after the game that she still doesn’t believe we have played our best basketball,” Honhart said. “I would agree with that. So that’s the challenge this week. Start playing our best basketball, and if we are able to earn another week, find a new level after that.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @emowenjr