TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — Now that’s clutch.
The Eagles hit over 70 percent of their free throws in the fourth quarter to seal their first victory of the year in Friday’s Tri-Valley Conference Hocking division match up against archrival Southern. The victory came by the score of 54-51 in the “Eagle’s Nest”.
After Southern (2-1, 2-1 TVC Hocking) began the game with a 15-7 run the the Eagles (1-3, 1-2) battled back cut the lead to 15-13 at the end of the opening stanza. The Tornadoes out scored EHS 5-to-4 in the first 4:05 of the second period but the Eagles closed the quarter with a 7-2 run which gave them the 24-22 halftime lead.
Eastern out scored the Tornadoes 6-to-5 through the first 3:30 of the second half but the Tornadoes closed the third quarter on a 16-to-7 run to take the six point advantage headed into the finale.
After swapping the lead EHS took the lead it didn’t relinquish from the charity stripe with 3:54 mark. The Eagles went 12-of-17 from the free throw line in the final period which paired with tough defense allowed them to hold on for the 53-51 victory.
“It was a much much needed win,” said Eastern coach Corey Britton after the game. ” We got off to that 0-3 start and didn’t think we were ever going to get healthy but we got one guy back and it makes a big difference. It was just a great team effort, it’s the first time we followed a game plan from start to finish and I give all the credit in the world to our kids they did it all. They listened they were coachable, we had a great week of practice and this is the payoff.”
The Eagles scoring attack was led by Max Carnahan with 25 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter. Kirk Pullins finished with nine points, Troy Gantt had seven, Brent Welch chipped in with six, Zakk Heaton had four and Cameron Richmond finished with three points to round out the EHS scoring.
The duo of Adam Pape and Dennis Teaford led SHS with 10 points apiece, followed by Tristen Wolfe and Chandler Drummer with seven each. Zac Beegle had five points, while Trenton Deem, Taylor McNickle and Casey Pickens each scored four points to round out the Tornado scoring.
“Give Eastern credit, I knew they’d never quit,” said Southern coach Jeff Caldwell. “I knew this was going to be a battle all the way through and that no lead was safe. Every time out is going to be a battle for us, the game against Waterford on Tuesday night, I don’t expect that too much. I think we’re going to be in for tough games, where it’s going to come down to execution in the second half throughout the year.”
Carnahan finished with a game-high eight rebounds and nine steals on the night while leading the Eagles with five assists. Pullins chipped in with nine rebounds for the Green and White.
“We’ve got a group of kids that have played basketball before,” Britton said. “With Kirk back that gives us five people back from last year and when you have experience like that we can have some success. It showed down the stretch, we didn’t do everything correctly but you could tell we felt comfortable in a close game with four seniors and a freshman out there.”
Wolfe and Pickens led the Tornadoes with five rebounds apiece, while Wolfe had a team-high five assists. Pape and Wolfe had the only two steals for Southern while Teaford and Drummer had the games only two blocks.
“At times we did (played hard) then at times I thought our energy level was a little low.” Caldwell said. “The mental mistakes that we’re making, the lack of focus and knowing the situation are areas where we just need to get better. With game experience we’ll get better and be able to handle those situations better.”
The Eagles were 15-of-52 (28.8 percent) from the field, including a 3-of-22 (13.6 percent) effort from beyond the arc. The Eagles were 21-of-34 (61.8 percent) from the free throw line in the game. Eastern had 23 rebounds and just 11 turnovers on the night.
Southern shot 16-of-32 (50 percent) from the field, 4-of-11 (36.4 percent) from three-point range and remarkable 15-of-20 (75 percent) from the charity stripe. Southern pulled down 27 rebounds but turned the ball over 29 times in the game.
“We’ve been terrible defensively all season giving up close to 70 points a game,” said Britton. “This week was huge, we had four days to prepare and the first three days we did nothing except work on our defense. If we can’t then we’re going to have no success we did much better.”
This is the second consecutive year that Eastern has handed the Tornadoes their first loss of the season in Tuppers Plains.
“I never expected us to be too good right here at the beginning of the year,” said Jeff Caldwell. “We had a couple of nice wins but we’ve got a long way to go. We lack a lot of experience, we turn the ball over way too much right now, we haven’t learned how to be consistent and play hard all the time and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We knew that coming into this season and we’ll get better as we go.”
These two teams will meet again in the regular season finale when the Eagles travel to Racine on February 15th.