PDT Sports Contributor
The three-seed Beaver Eastern Lady Eagles and the two-seed Portsmouth Clay Lady Panthers met in the Girls Division IV District semi-finals on Saturday at Jackson High School.
The Lady Panthers scored first and maintained a lead well into the fourth quarter before the Lady Eagles rallied back to take a late lead, their first and only lead of the game, as Clay ultimately overcame the surge, winning 53-49 to advance in the tournament.
The Lady Eagles started slow in the first half, heading into the locker rooms trailing by a score of 35-18 at halftime. However, in the second half, it was the Lady Panthers that appeared to be slowing down, while the Lady Eagles were heating up.
“Our defensive intensity picked up in the second half, and that’s what made the difference,” said Darren King, head coach of the Eagles.
Clay’s head coach, Kelly White had a similar take on the difference between the performance in the two halves, saying “I think we lost a bit of our intensity at halftime.”
Eastern was able to completely erase the 17-point deficit to take a lead over Clay by a score of 47-46 in the fourth quarter.
Although Clay was able to quickly overcome the one-point deficit, the tension remained until the final buzzer, as the teams were generally within 2 points of each other in the final minutes of the contest. On an Eastern shot attempt with 18.8 seconds left in regulation, the ball became wedged on the rim, delaying play and adding to the crowd’s anxiety.
The Lady Eagles scored on next play to pull the game within 1 point at 50-49, and it seemed that an upset was quite possible. Eastern resorted to intentional fouling, but it did not work in their favor, as Clay made ¾ free throws to close the game, sealing their victory.
“Senior leadership is why we pulled it out,” said White, “The kids just fought through it, and kept enough composure to get through it.”
The Panther’s leading scorers were Senior Emily Widdowson, scoring 21, and Junior Lexie Gilliand with 18 points.
King praised his team on their effort as well, saying, “I can’t say enough about these kids. I’ve got seven kids, and we played hard all year…I hate to see it end this way, but there’s always got to be someone that loses.”
Seniors Carson Roney and Kayla Alley were Eastern’s top scorers, with 16 and 18 points respectively.
Clay will take on the top-seed Reedsville Eastern Eagles at Jackson H.S. on Thurs. Feb 27, at Jackson H.S. for the Girls Division IV District crown.
“We’re not going to do anything different; we’ve won 13 in a row. We’re obviously going to have to step our game way up to play against this team,” said White of the upcoming game. “They’re a great team, number one in the state of Ohio, but we’re going to go into the game thinking we can play with them and see what happens- anything can happen.”