BUTLER – If there is any team that has gained more interest to the start of their season than Eastside, most would not be so sure who it is. The Blazers extended their great start to 7-1 on Wednesday, topping visiting Churubusco 55-32.
The Blazers won just six games in 2018-2019 and has only won seven of their first eight once in the last 20 seasons. It has made the entire area take notice of what has propelled the Blazers to being the top girls hoops buzzword team early on.
“What makes them really special is they all love each other. I haven’t been around another team, boys or girls that love each other so much,” said Eastside coach Mike Lortie. “They work hard every day and they’ve bought into everything 100 percent and it shows on the floor.”
Eastside jumped out to a 13-9 lead after the first quarter and extended it to 26-19 at halftime by mixing up their offensive game. Their patience allowed them to get a lot of quality shots, especially at the rim where Ally King continued to get solid positioning on small defenders. They also played much of the first half without sometimes leading contributor Mackensie Rieke, who picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game and had to take a seat.
Eastside started to separate themselves better with just 1:49 to play in the first half when Sullivan Kessler rolled off a King screen on an inbounds play to bury a three from the right wing. On the next possession, Haleigh Liberty extended the Eastside lead to seven, their biggest of the game, with a pair of free throws. Eastside would push the lead back to seven during a patient closing 40 seconds of the half. Narrowing the time left down to just eight seconds, Jaiden Baker buried an open eight footer to close out the half.
“It was real nice. Momentum is a wonderful thing so when you can go into halftime with a little bit of momentum there the last minute, it carried over,” Lortie said. “I think our energy was better in the second half, our execution was better in the second half, our defensive execution was a lot better.”
The second half started just how the first did with the score ping ponging, showing just how important Eastside’s first half close was for them to have a lead to maintain. The Eagles swayed momentum for the shortest of times with 53 seconds left in a few three from Myah Bear to get as close as four points. But a Taylor Richards uncontested jumper from the elbow for Eastside set up Sullivan Kessler beating the third quarter buzzer from the volleyball line to push the Blazer lead right back to nine.
Sullivan And Sky Kessler pushed the lead to 14 in the early parts of the fourth with a pair of shots and when Rieke scored the fast break layup with 5:55 left, the wheels were really in motion for Eastside to create instant offense with their defensive stops.
“When our defense plays well, we are pretty darn good. And it translates to the offensive end and I think it did that real well in the second half,” Lortie said.
That defense helped greatly as their lead ballooned up to and past 20 points in the fourth. The Blazer outscored visiting Churubusco 29-13 in the second half.
Sullivan Kessler led Eastside with 12 points while King added 11 points and 10 rebounds; there were eight different Blazers that scored. Audrey Husselbeck led Churubusco with 12 points before fouling out.
“They work hard for each other. We had a couple games in a row where we had foul trouble, put the next one in and they did it,” Lortie said. “We are picking each other up that way, we do a really nice job of that.”