The Eastern girls’ basketball team’s defense came through in the clutch Wednesday night.
The Eagles stopped Christian Academy of Louisville on its final three possessions of the 28th District Tournament final, and held the host Centurions without a field goal over the final 4:37, on their way to a 64-59 win.
“That’s been the thing I’ve been on them on all year (about), when we really need stops, can we stop the other team’s best offensive players?” Eastern coach Josh Leslie said. “At the end we had key stops when we needed them and we executed our stuff at the other end.
“We could’ve easily folded up when we were down with 2 minutes left, but we were able to execute some stuff and we were able to get big stops on defense.”
Mikayla Kinnard’s two free throws with 48.1 seconds left broke a 59-all tie and gave the Eagles the lead for good. Then, after a pair of CAL misses and fouls, Bri Mishler hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 18.8 seconds to seal Eastern’s third straight district title and set a new program-record for victories, according to Leslie.
Eastern (22-8), which is No. 15 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, and CAL (20-12) both advance to next week’s Seventh Region Tournament.
The second meeting of the season between the two rivals was similar to the first, which Eastern won 56-50 Feb. 3.
In that game, the Eagles built a 26-6 lead before CAL rallied late. This time Eastern opened up an early nine-point lead as the Centurions missed their first seven shots and 13 of their first 14.
Just like the first time around, though, CAL chipped away.
Led by sophomore forward Sarah McDonald the Centurions outscored Eastern 23-18 in the second quarter to pull within two, 31-29, at halftime.
CAL continued its comeback in the third quarter, taking its first lead (47-45) on Mia Beam’s jumper with 1:26 to play in the period. It was back-and-forth from there.
The Centurions took a 55-53 lead on McDonald’s basket with 4:38 to play. That was, however, CAL’s last field goal of the game.
“We just had to keep our intensity flowing and our momentum and try and keep our head in the game and play defense, defense was key,” Mishler said.
Sophomore guard Kiara Pearl paced the Eagles with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
“She’s shown stretches of it in games throughout the year. She finally, I told her, she stayed aggressive the whole time,” Leslie said.
Kinnard added 18 points and nine rebounds while Mishler scored 16, including eight in the fourth quarter, for Eastern, which shot 46.9 percent (23 for 49) from the field.
McDonald tallied 20 points while freshman Shelby Calhoun added 17 points and 11 rebounds for CAL, which shot 33.9 percent (19 for 56) – including 25.8 percent (8 of 31) in the first half.
“Momentum was on our side (late), then we took an ill-advised three and then we had a couple of turnovers, those things just drive you crazy, but it’s uncharacteristic of us,” Centurions coach Perry White said. “All that little stuff adds up in the end. It’s like, if we wouldn’t have dug a hole in the first quarter we’d have been okay.”
EASTERN 64, CAL 59
CAL (20-12) – Emma Wesley 11p, 4r; Summer Conti 6p, 6r, 4a; Shelby Calhoun 17p, 11r; Sarah McDonald 20p, 5r; Mia Beam 5p, 7r.
Eastern (22-8) – Bri Mishler 16p, 5r; Mikayla Kinnard 18p, 9r; Natalie Collins 6p, 5r; Kiara Pearl 21p, 5r; Devin Beach 3p, 4r, 6blk.