During Wednesday’s Region 12 semifinal game against Marion Pleasant, East Clinton pulled within eight and had the ball three times in the fourth quarter but was unable to convert.
The apparent ending to a storybook season was being written.
The Astros defense went off script and posted a re-write penned by a couple of sophomores that has the team one win away from the state tournament.
East Clinton rallied to defeat Pleasant 50-46 in overtime and will now play 1 p.m. Saturday in the Region 12 championship game against once-beaten and star-studded Cincinnati Purcell-Marian. Dee Alexander, a 6-1 freshman, averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds a game for the Cavaliers this season.
After a slow start Wednesday, Purcell-Marian battered Waynesville 52-31 in the other semifinal game.
East Clinton and Purcell-Marian met in the 2017-18 post-season with the Cavs coming out on top 63-35.
A rematch seemed unlikely, though, after East Clinton’s fast start Wednesday. The Astros led 6-0 then the offense stalled and Pleasant went on a run, leading 19-8. It was 28-19 at halftime. Midway through the third East Clinton was down 30-22.
Not once or twice, but three times down the floor the Astros came up empty. Normally that might spell doom when the offense is struggling but the defense made certain the offense would have its chance to shine again.
Jordan Collom stopped that scoreless streak with a steal and layup to make it 30-24. That effort was just a small glimpse of a total defensive transformation for the Astros in the second half.
“Jordan and Lauren did a good job on their two guards in the second half,” East Clinton head coach Bill Bean said. “Those two guards are pretty darn good. We shut them down in the second half.”
Collom’s steal and layin ignited a game-changing 13-3 run for East Clinton. The Astros took their first lead since early in the game when Jayden Murphy’s three-pointer made it 35-33.
It was pretty much a back and forth game from there but East Clinton’s defense had turned the tide and help secure the win. Pleasant was just 1 of 13 from the floor in the third and 6 for 27 after the first two quarters.
Collom and classmate Lauren Runyon led the charge, holding Pleasant guards Kyla Columber and Emerson Williams to 11 second half and overtime points. The pair scored 24 points in the first half.
Collom said, “I was more aggressive. I was playing a little lazy. I lit a fire under my own butt. I did a little self motivation.”
Runyon started the game guarding Pleasant post players then moved to guarding the perimeter. She’s confident with the switch.
“I know I’m a good defender,” she said. “I knew I could stop them. We just had to keep communicating, keep the energy up.”
Columber hit 4 of her first 5 shots in the game then managed just 3 of her next 18. She missed all three of her three-point attempts in overtime.
• East Clinton was the first girls basketball team to advance to the regional tournament since Clinton-Massie did so in 2014. The Falcons were defeated by Archbishop Alter.
The Astros are now believed to be the first Clinton County girls basketball team to reach the regional championship game.
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports