SPRINGFIELD — Throughout its tournament run, no deficit seemed too large for Eaton’s girls’ basketball team to overcome.
The Eagles had overcome deficits of 13, nine and eight points during three of their four tournament games heading into the team’s first-ever regional semifinal appearance against Hamilton Badin on Tuesday, March 1, at Springfield High School.
This time the Eagles, who were seeded seventh in the sectional, faced its largest deficit of the postseason (17 points) with just a little more than a quarter to play.
But as they had done the entire postseason the resilient Eagles rallied and got within three points with just over two minutes to play, but eventually ran out of time as the Rams escaped with a 51-44 win, thus ending the most successful postseason run in Eaton girls basketball history.
Eaton (13-14) collected upset wins over No. 3 Ben Logan, No. 5 Urbana, No. 1 Carroll and No. 1 Cincinnati Summit Country Day en route to the program’s first-ever district championship.
“I am so incredibly proud of this group of players and coaches,” Eaton coach Dave Honhart said. “Sometimes seasons are about what you become. Sometimes they are about what you accomplish. This season eventually became about both. It is a credit to the hard work of our players and coaches and a willingness of our players to completely buy in.”
Eaton entered the postseason with a 9-13 record but clicked at the right time.
“One longtime, well-respected AAU coach, who goes to a lot of games, and I mean a lot of games, told me after the game that we play as hard as anyone he has seen all season,” Honhart said. “I take that as a tremendous complement to our players and our culture.”
Eaton trailed 7-6 midway through the first quarter after an Olivia Orr (six points, two rebounds) basket.
The Rams then went on an 11-0 run to close out the quarter for an 18-6 lead. Eaton faced a 15-point deficit twice in the second quarter and seemed to grab some momentum when senior Anna Kramer (three points, four rebounds) connected on a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a 30-18 game at halftime.
The Eagles opened the third quarter with a mini 4-1 run to close the Rams lead to single digits (31-22) with just over five minutes remaining.
Badin used an 11-3 run, highlighted by a trio of 3-pointers, to push its lead to 42-25 with under a minute left in the quarter.
But as they had done the previous four games, Eaton never flinched.
Spearheaded on the offensive end of the floor by juniors Lily Shepherd and Olivia Baumann, Eaton scored the first seven points of the final quarter to get within 42-36 with 6:39 left.
Shepherd finished the game with 17 points and six rebounds. Baumann scored 12 and added 19 rebounds. In the postseason, Baumann averaged 14.2 points and 16 rebounds per game.
Another three by the Rams pushed the lead back to nine at 45-36 with 5:39 remaining.
Free throws by Allison Mowen (four points, four rebounds and four assists), Shepherd and a basket by Baumann made it a 45-41 game with 3:48 left.
Two more Badin free throws made it a 47-41 game with 3:04 remaining.
A Shepherd basket and Mowen free throw got the Eagles with 47-44 with 1:25 left.
In the final 30 seconds Eaton had a chance to tie but a three-pointer was just off the mark and Badin secured the rebounds.
The Rams knocked down a pair of free throws with 14.7 left for a 49-44 lead. Another Eaton three rolled out with under five seconds left and the Rams scored a breakaway layup as time expired for the final margin.
“Honestly, what we accomplished probably has not sunk in yet,” Honhart said. “For more than three weeks, I’ve been in playoff mode, which is a time of year that I absolutely love. I think we approach things a little bit different in our program, which has probably helped us at times. I think some programs try to add things and amp up the intensity. As coaches, we honestly try to do the opposite. We cut the game plans down, we cut practice time down. Rest, simplicity and confidence are keys to the way we do things. But the real key is that our players buy in and trust and relentlessly believe in each other.”
Eaton shot 14-of-48 for the game from the field, including 2-of-16 from 3-point range. They were 14-of-19 from the line and committed 16 turnovers, only three in the second half as they mounted their comeback.
Eaton held a 39-35 advantage on the boards doing most of the damage in the second half. The Eagles out rebounded the Rams 24-18 overall in the second half and held a 13-6 advantage on the offensive glass — a complete flip of the first half where the Rams held a 9-1 advantage on offensive rebounds.
Badin finished 17-of-60 from the field, including 8-of-33 from 3-point range and only committed eight turnovers.
“I thought we played well in the third quarter, but just couldn’t make up ground. I thought the push in the fourth quarter was incredible,” Honhart said. “Badin is a very, very good team. There was nothing to be ashamed of about being behind by 13 going into the fourth. But our players took up their drive one more notch and willed their way back into the game. Lily Shepherd and Liv Baumann simply decided that they were not going to be denied around the basket. That is a credit to their skill and competitiveness. We attacked the rim and got to the free throw line. We took care of the basketball and we forced turnovers. Late in the game, it felt like we had Badin on the ropes. We had some very good looks late that just didn’t drop. That happens. Credit to Badin, they made their free throws with 14 seconds to go.
“I told our players we didn’t lose this game. We ran out of time. And Badin won this game and deserved to win. Coach Sunderman did a great job of having his players ready and they started fast, which is something we always talk about. It was a great game and I wish them the best of luck from here on out.”
The loss marked the end of the careers of five seniors: Mowen, Kramer, Kyla Mize, Juli Couch and foreign exchange student Karma Mohamed.
Mowen, Kramer, Mize and Couch have all played together since the third grade. The senior class played in 14 tournament games, winning 10 in their careers and also played in 102 games, the most by any Eaton or county team in a four-year period.
“Teams always go as their seniors go,” Honhart said. “Juli, Ali, Anna, Kyla and Karma set the tone all season, along with their parents. They balanced humbleness and a team-first approach with incredible work ethic and resiliency. Everyone got along, enjoyed each other’s company and was low maintenance. We had the fewest team issues I can ever remember in a season. That’s a tribute to not only those players, but their families and how they were raised.
“We were blessed to have Karma Mohamed join us this year as an exchange student. The enthusiasm that she brought was incredible. Juli Couch’s season on the floor ended way back in December and yet she’s at every practice finding ways to contribute with her leadership. Anna Kramer’s such a good defender, good shooter, just does all the little things. Kyla Mize, again, similar player coming off the bench. We figured out she could guard some of the other team’s best players. A really nice glue girl chemistry wise. And then Ali Mowen is just an incredible leader. Incredible four-year quarterback. Incredible basketball player. Our team reflects her. Her combination of calm and just super competitive fighter.