STRAUGHN – After a big win on Tuesday night to clinch the Mid-Eastern Conference title, Eastern Hancock was tasked with a quick turnaround for possibly their biggest game of the season.
Just two days later, and without a practice on Wednesday due to the weather, the Royals answered the call, defeating Class 1A No. 1 and previously-undefeated Tri 57-47, on the road.
“This was an interesting game because it’s a huge game, but we wanted to focus on beating Randolph Southern on Tuesday, and we did that. Then a snow day yesterday, so we didn’t get to practice, and came in here a little concerned, but Tri was also in the same position,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “These kids are just so focused on the season. We did a Google meet to go over clips of Tri yesterday evening. They just all want to know what the plan is, they have questions about it, they talk with each other about how to handle things. It’s just a special group, and they rise to the occasion. It’s a group that you don’t have to get ready to play, they just show up ready to go.”
Any thought of a let-down was put to rest almost immediately.
Two quick Tri turnovers led to a Ruby White layup and Grace Stapleton 3-pointer to open up the game.
But Tri responded just as quickly, reeling off a 7-0 run on two Bailey Parham free throws, and five Abi Clarke points.
In a tightly called game, the Royals got in foul trouble early.
Tasked with guarding Tri’s leading scorer, Parham, the Royals’ center, White, picked up her second foul midway through the opening quarter, and the Royals’ leading scorer, Stapleton, picked up her second in the final minute of the first.
While Stapleton stayed on the floor for the second quarter, White sat the remainder of the half, and without their center, the Royals defense stepped up to help limit Parham through the first three quarters.
With White on the bench, Eastern Hancock limited Parham to just five points the remainder of the half and only four points in the third quarter, and were able to force her into foul trouble.
“You know who got the most attention in practice? It was Parham,” Doud said. “Our kids did a nice job of rotating when we doubled her, and rotating on the perimeter to keep them from getting clean looks.”
Midway through the third quarter, both starting centers picked up their fourth fouls and were both sent to the bench.
The Royals’ offense failed to take advantage with Parham on the bench, scoring just one point the remainder of the quarter to enter the fourth up 36-32.
When Parham returned in the fourth, she exploded for 12 of her game-high 25 points, but White matched her.
With both girls in foul trouble, the Royals went to White on four straight possessions in the fourth quarter. In a 39-36 game, White scored four straight baskets and pushed the Royals lead to double digits for the first time all game, 47-37.
“That was huge. That was the climactic point of the game and that led us to get a lead and hold it,” Doud said. “Being able to take advantage of when Parham was out or in foul trouble was huge for us.”
After the four straight baskets, a Parham drive forced the fifth foul on White, and with her on the bench, the Titans took a page out of the Eastern Hancock playbook.
Parham scored six straight points to cut the lead back down to 47-43.
But while the senior leader for the Titans kept them in the game, it was the Royals senior leader, Stapleton, closing things out.
She went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch, and scored eight of her team-high 17 points in the quarter.
While Parham scored 25, the Royals were able to limit the rest of the Tri offense, holding them 15 points below their season average of 62 points per game.
“We felt like we had a hand in their face most of the time. I just credit our defense, and we’ve had a bunch of bulldog defenders all year,” Doud said. “We’re going to hold teams below their average because that’s what we do, and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”
The Royals’ next game is round one of sectional play when they take on Triton Central on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Eastern Hancock 57, Tri 47
Eastern Hancock;14;15;7;21; — ;57
Tri;14;9;9;15; — ;47
Eastern Hancock (19-3): Grace Stapleton 5 5-7 17, Sammie Bolding 3 6-8 15, Emma Bolding 3 2-2 8, Ruby White 5 0-2 10, Makenzie O’Neal 0 1-3 1, Brooklyn Willis 1 0-0 2, Ellie Meyer 1 2-3 4. Totals: 18 16-25 57
Tri (21-1): Bailey Parham 7 11-15 25, Kenley Cornelius 2 3-5 7, Rylee Boyd 1 2-2 5, Abi Clarke 3 0-0 7, Amber Rich 0 0-0 0, Jillian Chew 0 0-0 0, Kennedi Knepley 0 0-2 0, Soraya Cridge 1 1-2 3
3-point goals: Eastern Hancock 5 (S. Bolding 3, Stapleton 2), Tri 2 (Boyd 1, Clarke 1)