Following their blowout win over Bartlett Yancey Thursday in the opening round of the Holiday Hoopla tournament, the Eagles advanced to Friday’s semifinal round, and a matchup with local foe The Burlington School. A veteran-heavy squad, the Spartans had beaten Orange in the opening round to set up the meeting with the Eagles.
The visitors from Burlington took an early 10-4 lead midway through the opening quarter behind seniors Molina Williams and Aniyah Vanhook. The Spartans increased their lead to 16-6 on a transition layup by Samantha Walker, which held through the end of the opening period.
In the second quarter, Laila Anderson scored on a tough jumper against Burlington School’s stiff zone defense to get the Eagles going. Moments later, a nice pass from Hali Watkins to Amiyah Evans got EAHS within six points at 16-10.
Eastern crashed the boards hard late in the second quarter, getting several second chance opportunities. But Burlington School continued to hold the advantage, leading 22-13 in the final minute of the opening half. A 3-pointer by Vanhook in the closing seconds gave the Spartans a commanding 25-13 halftime edge.
Although the Eagles tried to cut into the Spartan lead in the second half, Burlington School managed to keep EAHS at bay with their length, athleticism, and tough defense.
A pair of free throws by Anderson got Eastern within single digits - 29-21 - midway through the third quarter. But the Spartans took a commanding 34-22 lead heading into the fourth quarter following free throws by Williams and a layup by Vanhook.
Burlington School forced multiple turnovers and stretched its lead out to 38-23 in the opening 90 seconds of the final period, and a jumper by Walker made the score 40-23 with just over five minutes left in the contest.
The Eagles continued fighting, scoring eight unanswered points in under a minute and a half to pull within 40-31 with 3:33 to play, forcing a Burlington School timeout.
Eastern desperately needed another stop or turnover on defense, but some good ball movement by the Spartans led to a basket by Ayanna Griggs and a 42-31 lead by the visitors at the 3:00 mark. A transition layup for the Eagles by Anderson made the score 42-33 with 2:29 on the clock, but even more good ball movement by Burlington School led to an easy basket by Zariah Burns, making the count 44-33 under two minutes left.
Kyra Jones scored a transition basket for the Eagles at the 1:12 mark, which got Eastern as close as 45-35, and another EAHS layup - this one by Watkins - made the score 45-38 with 50.3 seconds left, bringing out Eastern’s final timeout.
The Eagles forced a turnover and got a 3-pointer from Evans with just under 30 seconds left, and suddenly EAHS was only down by four, 45-41. Burlington School called a timeout at the 24.7 second mark.
Williams went to the line with a crucial one-and-one opportunity with 15.4 seconds left, and made both shots, finishing off Burlington School’s 47-41 victory. The loss relegated EAHS to the third place game on Saturday afternoon against local rival Williams.
The Eagles and Bulldogs got off to a relatively slow start, playing to a 9-6 EAHS lead through the first eight minutes. The score remained tight into halftime, with the Eagles taking a 20-19 advantage into the locker rooms. It appeared that Eastern was set to pull away from Williams in the second half, building a 34-27 lead heading into the final period of play.
The Bulldogs, however, made a late push, outscoring EAHS 13-6 over the final minutes of regulation to tie the score, 40-40, and force overtime. Williams took control of the overtime session, scoring 14 points on their way to a dramatic 54-47 win, which placed EAHS fourth overall in their host tournament.
Despite their disappointing 1-2 mark in Holiday Hoopla, the Eagles got strong outings from four of their sophomore standouts against Williams, as Laila Anderson led the way with 19 points, and Amiyah Evans added 14 points. Hali Watkins recorded eight points and 13 rebounds, while fellow tenth grader Kyra Jones stuffed the stat sheet with four rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
The Eagles, now 5-3 overall and 1-1 in Mid-State Conference play, return to action on Thursday, January 2 with a road game at Southern Alamance. EAHS returns to league action Friday night with a road game at Northern Guilford, followed by a home game back in Tal Jobe Gymnasium on Tuesday, January 7 against Rockingham.