By KEVIN HARRIS
CLARKSVILLE – In the early moments of Saturday’s Class 2A Providence Sectional championship game, it appeared that Class 2A No. 4 Providence was on its way to a third consecutive sectional title.
Around the 2-minute mark in the first quarter, a steal and a layup by Olivia Jenkins gave the Pioneers a 12-2 lead.
However, after that, Providence’s offense went ice cold and red-hot Eastern rallied to win its first sectional championship in three years 44-34. The Musketeers (19-7), who won their third overall sectional title, will play South Knox (14-13) in the Class 2A Paoli Regional semifinals at noon this coming Saturday.
After being down 10 points, Eastern outscored the Pioneers (20-6) 42-22 the rest of the way to extend its winning streak to 11 games.
For the game, Providence wound up shooting 12-of-45 from the floor (26.7 percent). Pioneers’ head coach Brad Burden felt his players got several good looks at the basket. But they just could not convert, especially on their 2-point field-goal attempts. Providence missed 21 of its 30 2-point shots.
“I think it really came down to that we just didn’t finish, especially from 2,” Burden said. “I thought we executed well. We got to the rim. The ball just didn’t go through the rim tonight.”
Eastern took its first lead of the contest with 51 seconds left in the third quarter. Musketeer senior guard Holly Purlee nailed a long 3-pointer to put Eastern up 26-24.
With the Musketeers up 28-27 early in the fourth, junior guard Veronica Judson scored five straight points on a 3 and a short bank shot to put Eastern up 33-27.
Providence answered with seven unanswered points to take its final lead of the game at 34-33. The 7-0 spurt started with a layup by senior Claire Rauck, followed by a layup and a 3 by junior guard Hannah Wolford.
But following that run, it was all Eastern as the Musketeers reeled off the final 11 points of the contest.
The loss ended the careers of five Providence seniors – Jenkins, Rauck, Cheyenne Brooks, Mia Fougerousse and Sydney Milliner. That class helped the Pioneers record three 20-win seasons and capture their first two sectional and regional championships in program history.
“The seniors and juniors remember when we weren’t winning 20 games a year or competing for sectional and state championships. That wasn’t a thought when these kids were in elementary school. They’ve reshaped the culture and reshaped the program,” Burden said. “Yea, it stings. But what’s worse than losing the sectional championship is not the banners, nets or trophies. It’s just knowing that on Monday, you won’t go to practice with those kids.”
Rauck led Providence with 11 points, while Wolford scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Judson was Eastern’s leading scorer with a game-high 17 points. Teammate Rachel Stewart had 15 points and Musketeer senior Taylor Drury snagged 10 boards.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Judson – The 5-foot-5 guard shot 5-of-7 from floor, 3-of-4 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the line.
Judson tallied 10 of her 17 points in the final quarter, where she hit two 3’s to help the Musketeers secure the sectional crown. Judson definitely stepped up her game with Drury, one of Eastern’s top players, being held to six points by the Pioneer defense.
KEY SEQUENCE: Eastern’s game-winning 11-0 run started when Stewart gave the Musketeers the lead for good at 36-34 with an old fashioned three-point play with 2:30 left in regulation.
That was followed by Judson scoring five consecutive points thanks to a 3 and a pair of foul shots. A Drury free throw and a Stewart layup capped off the spurt.
UNSUNG HERO: Isabell Claywell, Eastern – The 5-5 freshman guard wound up with a game-high 11 rebounds. Claywell collected the boards mainly off 50-50 balls, where she battled in the paint for them against bigger Providence players throughout the contest. Her hustle and hunger described how determined Eastern was to collect its first sectional championship since 2014.
WHAT BOTH TEAMS DID WELL: Providence – The Pioneers had a solid defensive effort, holding Eastern to 14-of-32 field-goal shooting (43.8 percent) and forcing the Musketeers into 21 turnovers for the game; Eastern – The Musketeers’ defense was sound throughout the contest. Despite an off-scoring night, Drury drew the assignment of guarding Rauck for most of the game and did an excellent job. Rauck was 4-of-12 from the field and 2-of-9 from 3-point range. Judson and Stewart combined to connect on 10-of-14 field goals and 9-of-9 free throws. Eastern also dominated the boards as it outrebounded Providence 36-18.
AREAS OF CONCERN FOR BOTH TEAMS: Providence – Rauck and Wolford combined to shoot 8-of-27 from the floor and 3-of-12 from 3-point range. When the Pioneers’ top two players shoot like that, it is going to be extremely difficult for Providence to win. Plus the Pioneers struggled on the boards; Eastern – The Musketeers had ballhandling problems in the first half with 17 turnovers, including 13 in the opening quarter. Fortunately for them, they were only down six at 19-13 at halftime. They handled the ball much better in the second half to help them advance to the regional.
CLASS 2A PROVIDENCE SECTIONAL
EASTERN 44, PROVIDENCE 34
Eastern 4 9 13 18-44
Providence 12 7 5 10-34
Eastern (19-7): Veronica Judson 17, Rachel Stewart 15, Taylor Drury 6, Holly Purlee 4, Savannah Emmert 2, Isabell Claywell 0, Caylee Graves 0.
Providence (20-6): Claire Rauck 11, Hannah Wolford 10, Olivia Jenkins 7, Cheyenne Brooks 4, Mia Fougerousse 2, Kelsi Ernstberger 0, Brooke Hayden 0, Sydney Milliner 0.
3-point field goals: Eastern 4 (Judson 3, Purlee 1); Providence 3 (Rauck 2, Wolford 1).
Rebounds: Eastern 36 (Claywell 11); Providence 18 (Wolford 9).
Turnovers: Eastern 21, Providence 12.
Total fouls: Eastern 8, Providence 19.
Fouled out: Rauck.