NEW CARLISLE — A defensive switch early in the fourth quarter turned out to be just what Eaton’s girls basketball team needed in its Division II sectional final matchup with Graham.
Down four late in the third, the Eagles switched from a half court man-to-man and trapping zone to an all-out full court game, forcing eight turnovers, to rally for a 66-53 win over the Falcons and claim their third straight sectional title on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Tecumseh High School.
“I am very proud of our players,” Eaton coach Dave Honhart said. “That was an extremely hard fought, gutsy win against a good Graham team that played well.”
With the win, Eaton advanced to the district semifinals for the third straight year, which was scheduled to be played on Monday, Feb. 22 against No. 3 seed Trotwood-Madison.
The 66 points is a season high for the Eagles.
“We thought that we would be able to score against their defense,” Honhart said. “We were worried about some of the matchup problems that they presented. We gave up more points than we are used to in the first half, but at halftime as coaches, we really felt that it was more Graham making plays on offense than us failing to play good defense. After watching film, I would stand by that assessment.”
Honhart said Eaton’s rotations could have been quicker, but they forced Graham into some tough shots.
“We did a pretty good job on the defensive glass, especially considering their size, except for one possession where we gave up four offensive rebounds,” he said. “That being said, we ultimately got the stop on that possession.”
Traling 45-43 to begin the fourth, Eaton opened with an 8-0 run on a pair of three-pointers from senior Alexis Miller and junior Allison Mowen, in addition to a basket from senior Kylee Kidwell.
After the Falcons got within 51-48 with 5:11 to play, Eaton used a 15-2 run, which included a 12-0 spurt, to take control of the game.
“There are lots of individual performances that are easy to highlight, from Lily Shepherd going 7-for-8 from the field, Olivia Bauman having nine rebounds and five assists, Kylee Pitsinger having six steals, Lexi Miller and Allison Mowen playing complete games at both ends and each hitting two clutch threes, Kylee Kidwell scoring on backdoor cuts.
Honhart said there was one sequence, though that was “absolutely key to changing the game.”
“We had fallen down 45-41 with less than a minute left in the third quarter after Graham hit a three. Lily Shepherd and Juli Couch miscommunicated on a pass, giving Graham a chance to widen the lead going into the break between quarters. Late third quarter baskets can be such a momentum boost,” he said. “On defense, Juli anticipated a pass to the high post, got the steal and raced the ball down the floor. As a post, Juli isn’t one of our primary ball handlers, but we emphasize to our players the need to be versatile. Lily sprinted ahead of her and Juli drove the lane and made a perfect pass to Lily for a layup that cut it to two. This began a 22-3 run for us and it started with that play and built from there.”
Shepherd led the Eagles with 17 points. Miller and Mowen each added 12. Miller also had six rebounds and two steals Mowen finished with six assists and three steals. Kidwell contributed nine points, four assists and three rebounds and senior Kylee Pitsinger added seven points and six steals.
While Eaton’s offense was clicking, its defense struggled to contain the Falcons.
“For a while, it seemed nothing was working on defense. We were getting a lot of steals, forcing them where we wanted and they were still scoring,” Honhart said. “After they scored on back to back possessions in the third quarter and we were in man, I remember thinking, ‘Forget this. If they are going to beat us, they are going to beat us pressuring the living daylights out of them.’”
He said the Eagles pressed and trapped the rest of the way, whcih was a key to wearing them down in the fourth quarter.
“Assistant Coach Maggie Neanen also deserves a lot of credit for doing a masterful job of handling substitutions,” Honhart said. “We knew we were deeper than them and she used our bench perfectly so that we would have a serious energy advantage in the fourth quarter. It paid off at the most important time.”
Honhart said he believes his team is playing some of its best basketball of the season.
“As a team, I feel like we are peaking. This season has had a strange rhythm to it for everyone,” he said. “Summer ball is such an important time for learning your team, figuring out roles and no one had it this year. We lost some key players, yet we returned a lot of talent. It has taken a while for everyone to really figure out how to connect as a team and how to bring out the best in each other. Yet right now, I feel like we are the most connected we’ve been as a team all season, both on and off the floor and we are really playing well together. That is such a credit to our players, and especially our captains and seniors in the manner that they’ve led.”
He said the team could have packed it in after losing to Oakwood and playing seven games in 13 days.
“Instead they have picked themselves up, dug deep and pulled together to win three of the last four,” Honhart said. “We keep talking about earning one more game because no one wants this to end. We are having too much fun together as a team right now. We are also getting better and really valuing our reps in practice. Things we’ve worked on the whole season are finally starting to show up in games.”