Eastern Alamance hosted arch rival Western Alamance for Senior Night Tuesday evening inside Tal Jobe Gymnasium not only desiring a rivalry win over the Warriors, but needing to beat WAHS to stay in the race for the Mid-State Conference regular season title. EAHS held a 10-2 conference mark with just two regular season games to play, and a win over the Warriors would put the Eagles in position to at least tie for the league title heading into Friday night’s regular season finale against McMichael.
As they did when they defeated the Warriors back on January 21 on the road, the Eagles got off to a strong early start. Behind its usual solid defense and transition offense, Eastern broke out to an early 16-11 lead after the first quarter, and then a 21-14 lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter. But then things turned around considerably for the Eagles leading up to halftime.
After the Warriors had scored five straight points to pull within 21-19, the Eagles set up a good shot in the final minute of the half with some fine passing. But out of nowhere Western Alamance got a blocked shot, which eventually led to a bank shot near the free throw line, which tied the game at 21-21 at halftime.
Although the teams were knotted at the intermission, Western Alamance held the Eagles without scoring for approximately six minutes to close out the second quarter, giving the strong impression the Warriors were actually in the lead.
“We’re not characteristically a good shooting team. So to open up with two threes (3-pointers) - fool’s gold,” EAHS head coach Tim Krotish said moments after the game. “I knew it was going to lead to us wanting to shoot more threes, because we made our first two. If I’m not mistaken, we didn’t make any more. I don’t remember making another three after that. But those are the two that we made, and it got us off to a nice start. But at the same time, it also makes us believe, ‘Hey, it’s falling.’”
“It was a little scary that we were relying too much on the outside shot, but they (Western Alamance) had a nice game plan for us,” Krotish continued. “They played us totally man (to man defense) last time, and they went totally zone this time. Then they went triangle and two (defense), which got us discombobulated a little bit on how to attack it. Wasn’t expecting it - didn’t really prepare for it. We had prepared for it one other time earlier (in the season), but it was weeks ago. And my sophomores don’t remember weeks ago. They barely remember yesterday.”
Eastern jumped back ahead early in the third quarter thanks to sophomore Amiyah Evans, who scored the Eagles’ first six points in the second half. A nice drive and layup up the middle made the count 23-21, and then a mid-range jumper gave the Eagles a four-point advantage, 25-21.
The remainder of the third period belonged to the Warriors, who outscored EAHS 15-6 over the last several minutes of the period to take a 36-31 advantage into the fourth quarter.
After Western got a 3-point play to pull within 25-24, the Warriors connected on a 3-pointer to take a 27-25 edge three and a half minutes into the third quarter. WAHS continued to pour on the pressure, scoring in the paint and in transition following a steal to take a 32-27 lead. After the Warriors briefly jumped ahead by seven points, a nice offensive rebound and putback by Ginia Lawson got the Eagles within five going into the final eight minutes.
Watkins got the Eagles within three points in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, scoring on a nice drive to pull EAHS within 36-33. Kyra Jones got the Eagles even closer with a free throw, leading to a turnover by Eastern and a jumper by Evans, and then another free throw by Watkins, which tied the game, 38-38.
After both teams missed layup opportunities with chances to take the lead, Jones got a huge offensive rebound on an Evans miss. The Eagles worked it around to Watkins, who dropped it in for a 40-38 Eastern lead with just 1:47 to go, leading to a Western timeout.
The Eagles forced yet another Warriors turnover out of the timeout - a huge play that changed the entire strategic momentum of the final stretch. Evans drove the baseline and went up and under for a crucial layin, which gave the Eagles an all-important four-point lead, 42-38, with only 1:21 on the clock.
Evans was subsequently called for a foul on the other end on a shot attempt that it looked like she cleanly blocked, but Western could only convert one of the attempts. Watkins was fouled at the 1:08 mark, and though she missed the front end of a one-on-one, Lawson came up with a big offensive rebound for the Eagles. Fouled with 1:06 on the clock, Lawson banked in the first for a 43-39 EAHS lead, but missed the second free throw attempt.
Eastern forced a jump ball with 55.2 seconds to play, and following a missed 3-pointer by Western, Laila Anderson stepped to the line and made another free throw. Leading by five, 44-39, the Eagles gave up a 3-pointer to the Warriors, which cut the home team’s lead to 44-42 with only 37.9 seconds left.
The Eagles successfully worked the clock down to 20.4 seconds, when Anderson stepped back up to the line and sank a pair of free throws for a 46-42 lead. Western Alamance missed another desperation 3-pointer attempt, and Anderson finished things off for the Eagles with another free throw with 6.8 seconds remaining for a 47-42 Eagles triumph. Evans led the way for the Eagles with 14 points, while Anderson added 11 points in the huge win.
“The free throws by Laila at the end were big, icing it, putting the margin out there where they couldn’t catch us,” Krotish said. “I told them in the locker room (after the game) that in life, as well as in basketball, being determined, being hungry, fighting to the end - even when you’ve got attrition with foul trouble, and things aren’t going so good - will get you a long ways. And I thought we battled. We wanted it. And we hung on and won. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the effort and energy they played with.”
Western Alamance plays Northern Guilford on Friday night in a key Mid-State Conference showdown. With the win in hand over the Warriors, all the Eagles have to do now is defeat McMichael Friday night in Mayodan, and they will claim at least a share of the conference regular season title for the first time since the 2015-16 season, when the Eagles advanced to the NCHSAA 3A state semifinals.
If the Warriors can beat the Nighthawks, EAHS will win the Mid-State Conference regular season title by itself.
But first, the Eagles must beat McMichael.
“We could be co-champs, or we could be champs, depending on the Western Alamance/Northern Guilford game. Right now, Northern is still there with us. Now we’ve knocked Western one game back. Their game will determine whether we’re co-champs or conference champs - if we beat McMichael. Because McMichael is a formidable opponent - they’re a good ball club,” Krotish explained. “We would love for Western to beat Northern - we would love for that to happen - but all we can do is control our own destiny, and take care of business. And whatever happens, happens.”
After missing out on an opportunity to claim a share of the Mid-State Conference title with a disappointing loss late last season to Western Alamance, the Eagles are thrilled to earn a season sweep of the Warriors while also potentially setting themselves up for a share of or the outright Mid-State Conference regular season title.
“It’s a good feeling, no doubt. Last year, we were in this exact same position going into the Western Alamance game in the last week of the season. We had fought and battled our way back into the conference lead with Person, but we choked against Western and lost it, and ended up in second place. So we were right there,” Krotish said. “It’s a little bit of a redemption to beat Western in the same circumstances this time. So that’s a good feeling. Being young, it’s a little bit unexpected maybe for a lot of people, looking at us and saying, ‘Ah, maybe not yet.’”
“They’ve fought hard and played well this year,” Krotish continued. “Hopefully we can still continue to peak and get better as the season progresses.”