RACINE, Ohio — Back-to-back.
The Eastern boys basketball team, which began the season 0-9, earned the its second straight victory Tuesday night, topping Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division host Southern by a 54-44 count.
“This is a little unusual, for the first since I’ve been the Eastern basketball coach, we have won consecutive games,” third-year EHS head coach Jeremy Hill said afterwards. “I walked in the locker room and the guys weren’t celebrating, they weren’t throwing water and all that kind of stuff. It was like they knew that this is what you’re supposed to do, you’re supposed to win.”
The Eagles (2-9, 2-6 TVC Hocking) scored the game’s opening bucket, but the Tornadoes (1-11, 1-7) answered with a 5-0 run and led 5-2 at the 6:45 mark. Eastern ended a 4:30 dry spell at the 3:17 mark of the first with a Dillon Swatzel trifecta. Swatzel’s three-pointer started a 9-2 EHS run to end the period, leaving the Green and Gold with a 13-7 lead at the end of the first.
Eastern continued its spurt into the second scoring six of the first eight points to push the advantage to 19-9 three minutes into the quarter. Southern answered with an 8-2 run that cut the deficit to the four points, but EHS ended the half with a 5-2 run and a 26-19 lead.
The Eagles held a 20-to-14 advantage on the glass in the first half, but committed eight turnovers, two more than Southern. In the first half, the Purple and Gold shot 7-of-26 from the field, while EHS was 12-of-28.
Two minutes into the second half Eastern’s lead was back in double digits at 30-20. The Tornadoes — who made three trifectas in the first half — made three more triples in a 13-4, 3:30 third quarter run that cut the deficit to one point at 34-33. The Green and Gold outscored SHS 4-to-2 over the final two minutes of the third and led 38-35 headed into the finale.
Back-to-back EHS field goals to start the fourth, pushed the Eagle lead to 42-35, but the Tornadoes answered with a Tylar Blevins triple at the 6:17 mark. With a four-point lead, Eastern’s defense locked down, not allowing a SHS to score again for over four minutes. The Tornadoes dry spell allowed the Eagles to build the lead back to double digits at 48-38.
Southern cut the deficit to eight points, three times over the final two minutes of play, but the Tornadoes never got closer. EHS connected on 4-of-6 free throws in the final minute to seal the 54-44 triumph.
“Right now at times we struggle offensively, we have to make more of a commitment on the defensive end and in rebounding” SHS head coach Jeff Caldwell said. “Eastern has a veteran team, they have some experienced players out there, and I think that showed tonight. They made the buckets down the stretch and also, I thought (Dillon) Swatzel played a great game.”
Swatzel — who had 21 points and 17 rebounds in the Eagles first win of the year, last Friday over Federal Hocking — led the Green and Gold with 21 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a block.
“I honestly feel that there’s nobody on our schedule that can defend Dillon Swatzel when he wants to play hard,” Hill said of the 6-4 EHS senior. “We went down to South Gallia and he didn’t have a very good ball game, and I called him out a little bit in the locker room. Nobody can stop Dillon Swatzel, except Dillon Swatzel.”
Following Swatzel for Eastern was Jett Facemyer with a double-double effort of 18 points and 10 rebounds, to go with a team-best four assists. Cameron Richmond scored six points, Chase Curtis added six points, three assists and two blocks, while Ross Keller marked four points and six rebounds in the win.
“I give all the credit to our guys, because they wanted to come out here and play,” Hill said. “We haven’t played well here at Southern in the last couple of years, so it was very important for us to play with a lot of effort, a lot of intensity and a lot of heart. They did that tonight.
“My hat’s off to Southern, I think they’re going to win a lot of ball games once their ball club comes together. They always play hard. My heart is here in Racine, it always will be, this is where my family and friends are, but tonight I’m proud to be an Eastern Eagle.”
SHS sophomore Dylan Smith led the Purple and Gold with 13 points and four rebounds, followed by Blevins with nine points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and the team’s lone blocked shot. Crenson Rogers and Trey Pickens both posted eight points and vie rebounds, while Blake Johnson chipped in with six points, two assists and two steals.
For the game, Eastern held a 37-27 advantage on the boards, but Southern pulled in 10 offensive rebounds, one more than the victors. The Eagles finished with 10 assists, three steals, five blocks and 13 turnovers, while Southern had 11 assists, four steals, one block and seven turnovers.
Eastern made 8-of-13 (61.5 percent) from the free throw line and 22-of-48 (45.8 percent) from the field, including 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arc. SHS shot 3-of-4 (75 percent) from the charity stripe and 17-of-58 (29.3 percent) from the field, including 7-of-20 (35 percent) from three-point range.
“I felt like in the second half Eastern shot a lot of layups and that’s disappointing,” said Caldwell. “You have to have guys that are willing to sit down and guard people and you have to have guys that are willing to rotate over when someone does drive. They really hurt us inside.”
The Eagles will try to make it three straight victories on Friday when Miller visits ‘The Nest’. The Falcons topped Eastern 75-54 on December 4 in Hemlock, but EHS was still awaiting the services of starting senior guard Cameron Richmond when the Eagles visited Perry County.
“A big difference to why we’re clicking a little bit is we have Cameron Richmond,” said Hill. “Cameron Richmond gives us another scorer and he also gives us a ball handler, which we so much needed in the first nine ball games. I think the biggest thing right now, for our ball club, is we’re starting to know how to win ball games. You can’t ask for anything more, so moving forward we are going on a positive note.”
Tuesday night was the first game for Southern’s Tylar Blevins and Stephen Hysell, who were ineligible for the first 11 contest due to transfer rules.
“We’re mixing in the new guys and I think they’ll get better after a few games,” said Caldwell. “All I’m worried about right now is getting ready for Federal Hocking on Friday night. We maybe got some kinks worked out a little bit tonight. Guys aren’t used to playing with certain combinations out on the floor, so we’re going to have to find good combinations.
“I still think this team can be pretty good come season’s end and just remember, we’re working with no seniors. All these guys will just continue to get better as long as they’re willing to work, and they’ve been doing that so far this year.”
On Friday night, Southern will host the Lancers, who topped SHS 39-37 on a buzzer-beater on December 4 in Stewart.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342 ext. 2100.