Eastern advanced to the quarterfinals of the girls LIT with a 59-54 victory over Butler Thursday night. The Eagles led by as many as 16 in the first half before the Bearettes mounted a furious comeback and briefly took the lead. Eastern responded and pulled away down the stretch.
“It can’t happen against good teams. It has happened in a lot of games,” Eastern head coach Josh Leslie said about giving up a big lead. “We can’t be way up here one quarter and then way down here the next quarter.
“We’ve continually been up and had teams chip away on us. If we expect to do anything in the next month, we can’t let that happen, especially against really good teams.”
The Eagles sprinted out to an early 17-1 lead and led 19-5 through the first quarter. The Bearettes answered and outscored Eastern 22-10 in the second quarter to pull within a bucket at halftime.
“There are times in the past when that happened, and we had a total meltdown and ended up losing,” said Leslie. “This team is pretty resilient. These girls have played a lot and have been around me for a long time. They’ve been through all this.
“As brutal as our schedule is, with one home game so far this year, and playing almost all ranked teams the entire year on the road, it helps us in these games.”
Butler (16-7) tied the game at 29-29 early in the third quarter following a Tiarra East field goal. Jasmine Elder’s layup gave the Bearettes their first lead of the game with 2:09 left in the third. It was short-lived, however, as the Eagles closed the quarter on an 8-2 run and took a 45-41 edge into the fourth.
Eastern (13-8) continued its run in the fourth, scoring six straight points to push the lead back to double digits. The Eagles went 8-of-12 from the charity stripe in the final four minutes to preserve the win.
“We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” said Butler head coach Larry Just. “Things that we talked about, game plans that we put in, we didn’t seem to want to do those things tonight.
“These kids have been told they’re good enough to win a regional. But you have to do things a certain way. You have to come in and prepare yourself every day to be ready for those moments. We can’t seem to sustain things, and that’s what is frustrating. But that’s the challenge we have to try and get right in the next few weeks.”
Eastern senior Kiara Pearl led all scorers with 21 points. Tedi Nunn also reached double figures with eleven points while Marissa Gasaway and Mikayla Kinnard both finished with nine points and 14 rebounds.
Elder and Jabriel Kelly paced the Bearettes with 13 points.
The Eagles face Ryle in the LIT quarterfinals Friday at 7:00 p.m. Butler returns to action next Tuesday at home against Doss.