3RD TIME CHARM?: Waterford seeks upset over Eastern in regional semi tonight

Nobody needs to tell Waterford head coach Jerry Close how good the Eastern girls basketball team is.

He’s faced them twice this year, with not so good results.

Eastern (24-1) defeated the Lady Wildcats (18-7) twice by a combined 60 points (75-44 the first game, 65-36 the second.)

None of that matters now, though. Tonight Waterford gets a third shot at the Lady Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the state, as the two teams will clash in a Division IV regional semifinal game at Jackson High School. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“It’s a new season,” Close said. “We’ve got to approach it that way.”

One area Waterford will need to improve in is the turnover department. The Wildcats turned the ball over a total of 61 times in two games against Eastern this season, a lot of which “turned into transition points for them,” Close said.

Waterford will have to take better care of the basketball to have a chance against the Eagles.

“We have to limit our turnovers and play with confidence and poise,” Close said.

“If we turn it over 30 times again, it’s gonna be the same result.”

Eastern, coached by John Burdette, is loaded with talent all over the court. All five of its starters earned All-Southeast District honors, led by guards Jenna Burdette and Jordan Parker on the first team.

Parker, 5-foot-11, leads the Eagles with 16.4 points per game while Burdette, 5-8, has added 15.5 points a contest. The duo forms a dynamic one-two punch, as both players are capable of slashing to the hoop as well as shooting from the perimeter.

Erin Swatzel, a second team all-district honoree, and Katie Keller, a third team selection, give Eastern a dominant front court as well. Swatzel, 6-0, is averaging 11 points per game while Keller, 6-2, adds eight points a contest. Opposing teams have had trouble getting offensive production inside against these two players all year.

“Defensively, they cause a lot of problems in there as far as shot-blocking and rebounding,” Close said.

Rounding out Eastern’s starting five is 5-9 guard Maddie Rigsby, who averages 8.4 points per game. She was a third team all-district pick. Even Eastern’s top bench player, Laura Pullins, was a special mention all-district honoree.

Those six players account for the majority of the playing time for Eastern when games are close, which isn’t very often. It’s a lineup that most teams have struggled to compete with.

Waterford, however, has plenty of talent in its own right. Sophomore guard Dani Drayer leads the team with 15.8 points per game this season and earned first team all-district honors. Classmate Regan Porter, 5-10 post player, averages 10.8 markers per game and was a second team all-district selection.

Junior Taylor Hilverding, special mention all-district, and seniors Hannah Dailey and Randee Seevers are Waterford’s other probable starters. Sophomore Mariah Starkey and junior Maddy Sury are usually the first ones off the bench.

Waterford may try to control the tempo by slowing things down and taking smarter shots against Eastern.

“There’s a lot of different ways to attack,” Close said. “We’ve got to be more patient offensively.”

For two teams that have become rivals in the TVC-Hocking Division, it’s fitting that they will play each other for a third time with so much on the line.

“It’s one of those games we’re gonna have to feel out,” Close said. “There’s a lot more at stake this time around.”