RICHMOND, Ind. – Covenant Christian looked poised to make a comeback that would send the Warriors to their second straight state finals appearance. After Eastern led by as many as 18 in the first half of Saturday’s Class 2A girls basketball semistate, it was a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter.
But Rachel Stewart kept getting in the way.
Stewart came into the game averaging 19 points per game. She had that by halftime. She finished with a career-high 34.
Stewart got a steal with four minutes to play, hit a layup and was fouled. She hit the free throw to turn a two-point Eastern lead into a six-point advantage.
Covenant cut the deficit to two with two minutes to go, and it was still a one-possession game with a minute to play. But Stewart made four free throws in the final minute to put the game away. She finished 10-of-15 from the free-throw line.
“She keeps getting better and better every day and has a motor that doesn’t stop,” Eastern coach Michael McBride said. “She was making shots, and once she started making a few her confidence level went up.”
Stewart credited her teammates for her success.
“The whole team created opportunities for me to get going and score,” she said. “We played well on defense which created opportunities on offense.”
Eastern forced 18 turnovers and scored 25 points off the miscues. Covenant forced 17 turnovers, and Warriors coach Joe Smith credits his team’s defense with getting in back in the game. Twelve of those forced turnovers came in the second half, when the Warriors outscored the Musketeers by nine.
“Defense got us back in the game,” he said. “That’s what we hang our hats on. Our kids buy into that and play with energy. We got it to a possession and wanted a stop, but we didn’t get it.”
As was the case all season, the Warriors had a balanced offensive attack. Rebecca Schrad led the way with 16. Emma Cooper and Bailey Everett had 13 apiece and Mikayla Cleary scored 11.
Eastern lost three straight games in December. The team hasn’t lost since – that’s 13 straight wins – and is on its way to the first state-title game in program history.
“We just had to believe,” McBride said. “We said at the beginning of the summer that we wanted to do something special this year. We had to believe in what we do and how we do it.”
Eastern 65, Covenant Christian 59
Eastern 19 19 11 16 — 65
Covenant Christian 9 14 22 14 —59
Eastern (22-7) — Veronica Judson 3-6 2-2 10, Taylor Drury 5-10 3-4 15, Holly Purlee 1-8 0-0 2, Rachel Stewart 11-13 10-15 34, Savannah Emmert 1-2 0-0 2, Isabell Claywell 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 22-42 15-21 65
Covenant (16-10) — Bailey Everett 3-10 6-6 13, Mikayla Cleary 3-9 3-4 11, Jacki Halderman 3-5 0-2 6, Rebecca Schrad 6-13 2-2 16, Emma Cooper 4-8 5-5 13. Totals: 19-46 16-19 59