TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — In a battle of unbeatens, the final outcome ultimately came down to better execution.
Visiting Jackson shot 41 percent from the field and made 22-of-28 free throw attempts — including 12-of-18 charity tosses in the fourth quarter — en route to a 67-56 victory over Eastern in a non-conference girls basketball contest Monday night at the Eagle’s Nest.
The Ironladies (8-0) trailed only 2:34 in the entire contest,which ended at the 3:55 mark of the first quarter after back-to-back trifectas from Kari Jenkins turned an early 4-2 deficit into a momentum-shifting 8-4 advantage.
The host Lady Eagles (6-1) responded with a 7-4 run to pull within a point (12-11) at the 2:20 mark, but never came closer the rest of the way. JHS closed the final 1:40 of the opening period with a 7-2 surge to take a 19-13 edge.
Eastern missed its first eight shots in the second canto and finished the quarter just 1-of-12 from the field, as Jackson went on a 10-1 run over the opening five minutes to stretch its advantage out to 29-14 with 2:58 remaining — its biggest lead of the first half.
EHS countered with four straight points to pull within 29-18 with 1:17 left, but a Madison Ridout field goal 50 seconds later allowed the Ironladies a 31-18 cushion headed into the intermission.
Jackson was 10-of-30 from the field in the first half, including a 3-of-9 effort from beyond the arc. Eastern, conversely, was just 6-of-25 from the floor and 2-of-9 from three-point range. JHS held a 16-14 rebounding edge at the break and also had five turnovers, two less than the hosts.
Despite forcing eight Jackson turnovers in the third quarter, the Lady Eagles fell behind by 20 points on three different occassions — the last of which came at 49-29 with 1:23 remaining in the stanza. The Ironladies’ miscues were offset by a sizzling 7-of-11 effort from the field, which included a perfect 2-for-2 from three-point territory.
Eastern was just 4-of-15 from the field in the third, including 1-of-6 from behind the arc, as it entered the finale trailing 49-31. The hosts never came closer than 14 points in the third stanza, which came at 42-28 with 3:39 left.
The Lady Eagles outscored the guests by a 25-18 margin down the stretch, but never got their deficit down to single digits in the final eight minutes of play. Eastern pulled to within 66-56 with 26 seconds left in regulation, but Lexi Humphreys rounded out the scoring by making 1-of-2 charity tosses to wrap up the 11-point triumph.
Jackson finished the night with a 37-30 edge in total rebounds, although Eastern claimed a small 13-11 lead on the offensive glass. JHS had 18 turnovers in the triumph, while the hosts had just 11 turnovers — including four in the second half.
The Lady Eagles — who averaged over 70 points per game coming into Monday night’s contest — connected on 18-of-59 field goal attempts for 31 percent, including a 4-of-18 effort from three-point range for 22 percent.
It wasn’t a typical night for Eastern, which had not allowed an opponent to crack the 40-point plateau in six previous contests. Then again, this wasn’t the average opponent — as EHS coach John Burdette discussed afterwards.
“You have a bad game because of the competition you play, and Jackson has a good club,” Burdette said. “They play hard defense, they get after loose balls, they rebounded well and they have four or five girls that can score. They’re just a good team.
“We’ve got some work to do and it was a good eye-opener for us, so maybe we’ll get our work done before the end of the season.”
Jenna Burdette had a game-high 25 points for the Lady Eagles before fouling out with 46.6 remaining in regulation. Jordan Parker was next with 10 points, followed by Savannah Hawley with nine points and Erin Swatzel with six markers.
Maddie Rigsby and Katie Keller rounded out the respective EHS scoring with four and two points. The hosts were 16-of-25 at the free throw line for 64 percent.
It was the first win for Jackson over a team with a winning record this season, but the Ironladies also made a statement in that first significant victory — and it came from the defensive end of the floor.
“Our identity is our defensive effort, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight,” JHS coach Matt Walburn said afterwards. “We knew we were going to be dealing with the Burdette girl, and wow what a phenominal player she is, but I thought we did a pretty good job on her. I’m just really proud of these kids tonight for their effort.”
Another item of pride for Walburn afterwards was how well the Ironladies converted free throws, especially in a big game on the road. JHS finished the night with a success rate of almost 79 percent, and it played a crucial role in the final outcome.
“We talked about free throw shooting on the way down here,” Walburn said. “We might be shooting 64, 65 percent from the line this year, so I told them to just think positive thoughts and make them. They call them free throws for a reason.”
The Ironladies were 20-of-49 from the field overall, including a 5-of-11 effort from three-point range for 45 percent. Kari Jenkins paced the guests with 24 points, followed by Madison Ridout with 18 points and Whitney Wills with nine markers.
When asked what his team needed to improve on after this loss, Burdette simply pointed to the basics of the game.
“We need better execution. We need to make sure we are setting our screens, making sure we’re coming off of the shoulders just like the fourth grade when they were taught,” Burdette said. “There is no great offense, it just comes down to great execution.”