PICKERINGTON Reedsville Eastern girls basketball coach John Burdette had seen Mohawk so many times last week in Lexington that he joked he should have gotten a hotel in nearby Mansfield.
One of his assistants joked that they knew Mohawk better than they knew their own Eagles team.
All the homework and study showed Thursday night in the Division IV regional semifinal at Pickerington High School North as Eastern knocked Mohawk out of the tournament with a 63-47 victory.
"I think I should have rented a room in Mansfield or Lexington. We (were) up there quite a bit. I think I had my eyes on them three games and my assistant coach said 'I know this team better than I know our own. The only thing I don't know is what (Lynsey Trusty) had for breakfast yet,'" Burdette said. "We knew it was going to be a hard game. They're a good club. I'm glad we played defense and had hands in shooter's faces this time. That what it was all about."
From the opening tip, Eastern (22-4) had Mohawk's game plan down: stop point guard Trusty from penetrating, and if she breaks through, cover the big 3-point guns: Sarah Runion and Julie Adelsperger.
It worked to perfection. The defense pestered the Warriors into 17 turnovers and Runion was held scoreless. Adelsperger got loose a few times for three 3-pointers, part of a 12-point night. Due to the defense, Trusty did less dishing and more scoring, pouring in a team-high 16 points.
"It was a great defensive effort and like I said, they played like we practiced. That's what we practiced for," Burdette said. "And that's a credit to that team. When you screw up, they capitalize."
On offense, the plan was simple: attack, attack and attack. And when the attack fails, rebound the miss and put it back in. The Eagles were 23 of 42 from inside the arc, with the bulk of their points coming in the paint, including the 19 points they got off their 16 offensive rebounds.
"One of the major things we talked about was that we had to rebound. I think we got outrebounded in the first half. They were just getting everything. When they get two and three and four looks at a bucket, they're going to make one of them," Mohawk coach Josh Fortney said, whose team was outrebounded 34-27. "So we had to box out and in the third quarter, I think we started to do that."
Part of that was due to Mohawk's big post, Sarah Parker, finding herself in foul trouble much of the gamem and fouling out with 6:09 to go in the fourth trying to grab an offensive board. She finished with 10 points but just three rebounds.
"It had to be big for us because they could dump into her and she was also getting some easy bunnies and some putbacks if need be," Burdette said. "We never went at anyone to get fouls on anyone but it was fortunate that it happened and unfortunate for them."
The final score was not indicative of how close the game was for the first three quarters. Mohawk (21-5) led early but Eastern took control and held a 16-12 after the first quarter. The Warriors retook the lead late in the second quarter before an 8-2 run in the final two minutes allowed Eastern to regain the four-point margin at half, 30-26.
But the third quarter was a different animal. After Erin Swatzel scored on an offensive rebound to open the third, Mohawk ran off 13 straight to make it 39-32 and forcing Eastern to call a time out with 4:25 to go.
The reset for Eastern worked as the Eagles soared on a 9-4 surge of its own to finish the third down just two, 43-41.
It was the last time Mohawk would lead.
"I told them we needed to think about what we were doing," said Burdette, who joked that was the cleaned up version of what he told his team between quarters.
Jordan Parker scored two points from the line after drawing Sarah Parker's fourth foul. Sarah Parker was pulled, but remained out the game just 47 seconds as Eastern snared two more offensive boards in that time frame and pulled ahead 47-43.
Sarah Parker checked back in, scored seven seconds later to cut it to 47-45, but fouled out 24 seconds later.
"To their credit, they're a good basketball team and they're well coached," Fortney said. "Who's hurting them? Sarah Parker. Drive to the middle and try to get some fouls on her. She picked up a couple fouls and she ended up fouling out midway through that fourth quarter and that changed the game plan for us and for them a little bit."
Trusty sank a pair of free throws with 5:08 left to make it 52-47, but Mohawk didn't score again, going 0 of 9 from the floor, part of a 1 of 13 fourth quarter.
"This game has been like a couple games throughout this year. These girls, I ask everything from them and they give me everything and they lay it on the line," Fortney said. "There are always variables in every game: some fouls, some calls and some missed shots and some made shots for them. I asked the girls to lay it on the line at halftime and they did. I'm just very proud of our girls and what they did, in this game and throughout the season."
Eastern, which finished ranked No. 10, in the final AP poll of the season, was paced by Jenna Burdette, who had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Swatzel had 13 points and two blocks while Maddie Rigsby tossed in 10 points.
The loss marked the end of a historic tournament run for Mohawk and its eight seniors.
"They have an own special place in my heart, just like my three kids," Fortney said of his seniors. "They're good students. They're good athletes and they're going to grow up and they're going to be good people. Hopefully this (success) gets the monkey off the basketball back because softball has obviously had a lot of success and volleyball in recent years (has too). Let's hope this opens the door and some more basketball teams can do it down the road."
Eastern moves on to face Newark Catholic, the No. 4 team in the state, who beat Waterford 52-50 in the other regional game. The two will play at 7:30 Saturday night back at Pickerington North.