By MacKenzie Bates - Sports Editor
March 12, 2014 — Hager Easterling skipped the sidelines at his bench after a bounce pass in the lane to Kelsey Stumbo as she glided in for a layup.
It was just that kind of night as the Lady Raiders got the monkey off their back in the first round of the 16th Region Tournament with a 55-33 win over Rowan County.
It’s the first semifinal the Lady Raiders played in since East lost in the regional championship in the 2009-10 season.
East had lost in the opening round of the tournament for two straight years and Easterling knew his kids were not going to have that this year.
“Kristen (Mayo) and Bry (Greenhill) played when Fleming County beat us in the first round (in 2011),” Easterling said. “Some of these girls played a little bit (then) but the last two years they’ve been through that heartbreak … and they were tired of it and they were ticked off.
“When you get a female that’s ticked off and you can’t do something, then most of them will get determined to show you that they can and I think that’s what they got in their head.”
That attitude showed in the first half. Mayo hit three three-point baskets in the first nine minutes en route to 15 points. Freshman Haley Hall added 11 and Greenhill scored 10 points in the victory.
But it was the defensive pressure that impressed Easterling the most. They held Rowan County to 33 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers, 14 of which came from steals.
“I thought our defense was really solid,” Easterling said. “Our pressure isn’t to steal the basketball but it’s to wear the other team down. I thought that showed up. I’m proud of our kids with the way they played.”
The win also gave Easterling his 400th career victory but that wasn’t the most important thing to him at the time.
“When you do it in 18 years, it means you’ve been God-blessed in that you’ve coached a lot of good players,” Easterling said. “But the number that means the most to me right now is six. That’s how far these kids are from away from a state championship. Obviously, they’re focused on winning the region. But they want a state title. They won’t be satisfied by winning the region.”
Rowan’s Faith Conn had 11 points in her last game for the Lady Vikings. Sophomore Sarah Purdy had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
After the Lady Vikings scored the first two points of the game, East reeled off the next 11. Rowan did get back in the game at 15-11 on a basket by Conn in the second quarter, but a 10-0 run capped by a triple by Greenhill, one of seven the Lady Raiders had in the first half to put the game away.
MacKenzie Bates can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 1-800-247-6142.