COLUMBUS — Twenty-six wins and a trip to the Division III State Final Four would be enough for most teams, but after losing to the Versailles Lady Tigers, 58-34 Friday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, the Eastern Brown Lady Warriors said they were happy with the season, but not satisfied.
The Lady Warriors (26-2) played very tough against a physical Versailles team, but in the end, the Lady Tigers’ experience at the state level was too much for the Lady Warriors to overcome in the State Final Four.
One key to the game was the difference in rebounding between both teams. The Lady Warriors were out-rebounded, 31-20 against Versailles. The Lady Tigers (26-3) had balanced scoring with four players in double figures, plus their defense pressured Eastern to 15 turnovers.
Versailles, on the other hand, led after each quarter, including a 14-11 first frame, but the big difference was the second frame at a 12-4 differential for a 26-15 halftime score.
“I thought they did a good job of stretching our defense there early. They hit a couple threes that brought us out of our man-to-man defense early and had key people who we didn’t think would shoot as well as they did,” Eastern head coach Kevin Pickerill said. “When they did that, they were able to pound the ball inside and really take advantage of us.
“They get after you (on defense) man-to-man and make you work for each basket, and pass, for that matter. Our kids weren’t used to the physicality of the game, and they wore us down after a period of time. We are big, but we got a little tired. At the end of the day, we fought and clawed and just didn’t have quite enough.”
Eastern was led by junior Allison Day with 11 points (three rebounds, two assists, one block) and sophomore Morgan Reynolds with 10 points (two assists, one rebound). Sophomore Alexa Pennington followed with seven points (two rebounds, two assists, one block), while junior Mikayla Farris finished with four points (four rebounds) and senior Jensen Sowers totaled two points (two rebounds).
In the first quarter, the Lady Warriors trailed by just three points and first scored in the Division III State Semifinals with 5:10 left in the first frame as Farris scored two points in the paint to bring the Lady Warriors to within three points of Versailles as they scored the first five points of the game for a 5-2 score.
Eastern played strong in the first with two more layups by Farris to make it an 8-4 deficit at the 4:20 mark, and that began a seven-point run by the Lady Warriors, which also included a turnaround jumper from Day and a 3-pointer from Reynolds for a 9-8 Eastern advantage.
The lead would be their lone one of the game, with Camille Watren sinking her third 3-pointer of the quarter, allowing Versailles to regain the lead. Eastern tied the score following a jumper by Day at the 59 second mark, but Versailles scored the final three points of the quarter for a 14-11 advantage over the Lady Warriors.
Eastern struggled to score points in the second frame, being outscored 12-4 with their four points coming from Day on a layup at the 4:57 mark and later a one-handed shot by Pennington with 1:09 left in the first half for a 26-15 halftime score.
Both Day and Pennington spoke following the state semifinal about the experience of playing at the state level.
“For me, coming here since middle school watching everyone play was a dream,” Day said. “Even after the game, it still doesn’t seem like we played here. When I was little, I always thought, ‘Man, those teams were good,’ and now we are one of those teams that got to play here.
“I know there are kids up there now who are like that, thinking ‘I want to play there someday,’ and they were watching us like role models.”
Pennington also talked about the experience.
“I just transferred here this year, and I knew at the end of the season we had a solid team,” she said. “At tournament time, we were all working really well together, clicking and all did really well. Now we are here, I have to take a step back and know it was an unbelievable and good experience.”
The third quarter was played much closer with Eastern losing the frame at a 15-11 deficit, but in the fourth the Lady Warriors were held to single-digit scoring with Versailles winning the frame, 17-8 for the 24-point victory.
VHS was led in scoring by Danielle Winner and Watren with 14 points each. Also in double figures for Versailles were Kami McEldowney and Elizabeth Ording with 11 points each.
Versailles outscored the Lady Warriors in the paint, 26-14, and of their 58 points, 22 were off turnovers and 19 points came on second chance opportunities.
Coach Pickerill said his team will continue to build from this experience.
“We will grow on it, but it is like I told the kids, nothing is a given,” he said. “It is a challenge to win district and regional titles, but we are going to work. We are going to take some time off for 28 days, then get back to work.
“We are tickled with 26 wins, we are happy, but definitely not satisfied. This is a group of kids that every night we stepped on the court, we felt like we were going to win, even in games when we were underdogs. I felt we overcame some obstacles and some adversity at the beginning of the season, but we came together. What I like about this group is they challenge each other every day in practice, and that makes us better.”
Also with stats in the game for Eastern were Whitney Broughton with one rebound, Megan Cox (one steal), Camryn Pickerill (one rebound) and Destine Rose (one rebound).
The Lady Tigers will face Gilmour Academy on Saturday.