LEES CREEK — The Waynesville Spartans are a perennial powerhouse in girls basketball and the 2019-2020 team looks to be no different.
Coach Tim Gabbard led his team all the way to Columbus last season for the state tournament, and though they graduated some key players, the Spartans are well on their way to another stellar season.
On Monday, Waynesville visited East Clinton and defeated Jeff Craycraft’s young Astros 43-29.
The high scoring Spartans were coming off a win in which they had scored 76 points. It was no cakewalk for the visitors on this night. The Astros put up a valiant effort, staying close until well into the fourth quarter.
Craycraft was pleased with the determination his young team showed.
“They are a physical, experienced team,” Craycraft said of Waynesville. “They just wore us down a bit in the second half. The scoreboard may not show it, but we got better tonight. At times we had four freshman on the floor holding their own with a team that went to the state tournament last year. That’s a lot to ask.”
EC athletic director Jim March, Craycraft and the Astro players recognized Edward Mccarty, a United States Air Force Veteran, with the Medal of Honor. East Clinton is honoring individuals all through January for Military Appreciation Month.
Things started positively for the home team as Kami Whiteaker found a cutting Libby Evanshine with a perfect pass from the layup. Another bucket from Evanshine staked the Astros to the early 4-0 advantage. The early run seemed to wake up the Spartans, especially sophomore Emma Whitaker, who was the driving force behind a Spartan run that propelled them to a 14-10 lead at the end of the period.
For the Astros, Evanshine kept the Astros in the game. She had a couple key blocked shots, and scored all 10 of the EC points in the opening quarter.
Waynesville came out hot in he second quarter, but a long three-pointer at the 2:00 minute mark by Astro Jayden Murphy cut the Spartan advantage to three. The Astros battled gamely throughout the period, and the Spartans led 21-18 margin at the half.
Waynesville converted two straight Astro turnovers into layups and quickly extended the lead as second half action got underway. A beautiful assist from Whiteaker to Murphy for a bucket temporarily righted the ship for the Astros. Whiteaker came right back with another gorgeous feed, this time to Evanshine, for a three-point play.
“Kami did a great job running the point for us tonight,” said Craycraft. “Libby continues to improve and get stronger every game.”
The home team was right back in it. Turnovers continued to be a major thorn in the Astros side however, as a couple in the final minute that Waynesville capitalized on stretched the lead to 31-23 at the end of three quarters.
For the first time in the game the Spartans extended their lead to double digits, as a three-pointer from Leah Butterbaugh made it 34-24 at the 7:00 mark of the final quarter. Waynesville was able to handle East Clinton’s pressure late, and converted from the free throw line enough to finally put away the tenacious Astros.
Freshman Libby Evanshine led the way for the Astros with 17. Waynesville was led by Emma Whitaker, who put up a game-high 18 points.
East Clinton, with the hard fought loss, falls to 2-10 on the season. They are back in action Thursday night as they travel to Clermont Northeastern. “We upset them earlier this year at home. It’s a tough place to play, but my kids will come in to practice tomorrow ready to compete and prepare,” Craycraft said.
In the junior varsity game, East Clinton was defeated 40-32. Jayden Murphy led the Astros with 15 points.
Brian Georges covers high school sports for the News Journal.