ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — There was a difference of one possession between Eastern and Southern in a regular season split.
The difference between the two was much greater in the postseason rubber match.
Eastern allowed just 10 first-half points and ultimately led by as many as 22 points overall during a 55-42 victory over Southern in a Division IV sectional final Tuesday night at Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium on the campus of Meigs High School.
The fifth-seeded Eagles (9-14) led all but 3:24 of the 32-minute affair, as the guests jumped out to a 13-6 advantage after eight minutes of play. The Tornadoes (10-13) made their final basket of the first period at the 1:10 mark after a layup by Dennis Teaford made it a 10-6 contest.
Fourth-seeded Southern went on to miss its next 18 consecutive field goal attempts — including a 0-for-14 effort in the second quarter — over a 10:37 span, which finally ended with a Teaford basket at the 6:32 mark of the third canto. By then, EHS owned a 28-12 advantage and was well on its way to victory.
The Eagles — who claimed a sizable 47-28 edge in rebounding — committed a dozen turnovers in the final stanza, but SHS could never get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
It is the 16th sectional title overall and fifth in six years for the EHS boys basketball program, and it is also the first for second-year head coach Corey Britton. Britton spoke afterwards about the importance of this win for his troops.
“We had one goal at the beginning of the year, and one goal only, and that was for us to make it to the Convo,” Britton said. “We were 3-12 at one point this season and nobody believed in our kids. All the credit in the world goes to our kids, because they kept plugging away and they kept believing. We got it done … and it’s an amazing feeling. I’m so proud for those kids right now.”
Conversely, it was a tough night for sixth-year SHS coach Jeff Caldwell — who watched the Tornadoes’ streak of five straight district appearance come to an end. Caldwell noted that the second quarter scoring lull certainly didn’t help things.
“If you can’t score, you can’t win. Eastern was having trouble scoring in the first half as well, but the difference was that they were hurting us on offensive rebounding and they were able to get some easy buckets off that,” Caldwell said. “Eastern played with a lot more confidence than we did, and it seemed like they got all the loose basketballs and converted some of those into points. That was the difference tonight.”
Eastern won the first matchup by a 54-51 decision at home back on December 14, but the Tornadoes salvaged a split by claiming a 50-44 decision in the final game at Charles W. Hayman Gymnasium back on February 15. SHS owned a slim 101-98 edge in overall scoring headed into Tuesday night.
Southern’s only lead of the night came at the 6:49 mark of the first after Trenton Wolfe converted a layup for a 2-0 edge, but Chase Cook followed with with five straight points over the next two-plus minutes — allowing EHS to claim a permanent lead at 5-2 with 4:36 left in the canto.
Cook and Max Carnahan followed with consecutive baskets for the Eagles’ biggest lead of the first quarter at 10-2 with 3:24 remaining, but Teaford added consecutive buckets to pull the guests to within four with 1:10 left in the period.
SHS was never closer the rest of the way, and Kirk Pullins converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 46 seconds left — allowing the guests to secure a 13-6 edge after one period of play.
Southern made a small 3-2 run over the opening five minutes of the second canto, but a Troy Gantt free throw at the 2:50 mark sparked a 9-1 surge to close the half — giving the Eagles their biggest lead of the half, a 24-10 cushion at the intermission.
Eastern owned a 24-16 rebounding edge in the first half and committed just eight turnovers, compared to 10 by the hosts. EHS netted 7-of-27 shots in the opening 16 minutes for 26 percent, while Southern was 3-of-23 from the field for 13 percent.
Carnahan and Pullins added consecutive scores to push the lead out to 28-10 before Teaford’s basket at 6:32 ended Southern’s field goal drought, but the Eagles answered with an 11-7 run to take their first 20-point lead at 39-19 with 2:10 left in the third.
Eastern finished the period with a small 6-4 spurt to secure a 45-23 cushion headed into the finale, its largest lead of the game.
The Eagles committed seven turnovers and had zero shot attempts in the opening 3:05 of the fourth, and SHS went on a 16-4 charge to pull to within 49-39 with 2:23 left in regulation. EHS closed the game with a 6-3 run to wrap up the 13-point triumph.
Eastern advances to a Division IV district semifinal contest at 6:15 p.m. Monday at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens. The Eagles will face the winner of the Portsmouth Clay-Portsmouth Notre Dame contest held Wednesday night at Lucasville Valley High School.
EHS connected on 17-of-48 field goal attempts for 35 percent overall, including a 3-of-10 effort from three-point range for 30 percent. The guests committed 25 turnovers and were also 18-of-29 at the free throw line for 62 percent.
Max Carnahan led Eastern with 12 points, followed by Chase Cook and Kirk Pullins with 11 markers apiece. Zakk Heaton and Troy Gantt respectively chipped in eight and seven points, while Christian Speelman and Brent Welch rounded out the scoring with four and two markers.
The Tornadoes were 15-of-49 from the field for 31 percent, including a 2-of-13 effort from behind the arc for 15 percent. SHS had 23 turnovers and also went 10-of-19 at the charity stripe for 53 percent.
Tristen Wolfe paced Southern with a game-high 18 points, but only four of those came in the first half. Dennis Teaford was next with seven points, followed by Hunter Johnson, Trenton Deem and Zac Beegle with four markers apiece. Taylor McNickle and Tanner Roush each chipped in two points, while Chandler Drummer rounded out the scoring with one marker.
It was the final basketball game for Southern senior Adam Pape, who had his season end a few weeks ago to a knee injury. Caldwell was praiseful of his lone upperclassman and all that he has meant to the Purple and Gold over the years.
“Losing Adam hurt us. He always gave us great effort and most of the games we won were games that he played well in,” Caldwell said. “We are certainly going to miss him, and I wish him nothing but the best in the future.”