Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
LEESBURG — Mackenzie Gloff had herself an absolute night on Thursday.
Eastern’s senior center has always seemed to find a way to shine on the biggest of stages. But in a battle of conference unbeatens, it’s possible that she’s never been better.
Gloff carried her Warriors (8-1, 6-0 SHAC) to a 54-42 win over Fairfield, allowing Eastern to grab sole possession of first place in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference for the time being.
“When things aren’t going right for our guards, our scorers, we can still get other people involved,” Eastern coach Kevin Pickerill said. “That was one thing we talked about at halftime. Our guards were being pressured a lot and we were forcing shots or trying to split defenders. At the same time, Mackenzie was open. So we gave her a look first before trying to do something one-on-one. When Mack finishes like that, we go to a different level. She was confident tonight.”
Gloff scored the team’s first seven points before ending the night with a total of 20.
She was joined in double-digit scoring figures by Rylee Leonard and Torie Utter, who hit shots and made plays when the game was on the line.
Leonard ran the team’s offense and helped put the game away late while Utter finished with a team-high seven rebounds — an aspect of the game that will become increasingly more important as Eastern’s schedule ramps up.
“If we can get six to seven rebounds from Torie and six to seven from Emma [Prine] each night, then Izzy [Barber] comes in and gives us three or four while Mack continues to do what she does, we’ll be fine,” Pickerill said. “But it’s a continuation of an effort we have to give defensively and finish it with a box out. We’re busting our tail defensively, so it’s just a matter of getting the rebound.”
Tale of the tape
Fairfield’s Braylynn Haines started the night’s scoring with a lay-in at the 7:08 mark in the first quarter, which was followed by Gloff’s first score with 5:58 left. Haines hit a 3 with 4:44 to go before Gloff sunk back-to-back shots, including a 3, to give Eastern a 7-5 lead.
Lions senior Ella Newkirk hit one of two free throw tries to produce the quarter’s final tally of 7-6.
In the second, Haines, Newkirk and Peyton Magee also graced the scoring column, allowing the Lions (8-1, 5-1 SHAC) to take an 11-7 lead while capping a 5-0 run. But Leonard hit a 3 with 6:05 left before connecting on two free throws for a 12-11 Warrior edge.
That back and forth would continue throughout the rest of the first half. With 22.7 seconds left, Eastern’s Bailey Dotson put the Warriors ahead 20-18, only to be answered by a bucket from Caitlyn Quickle on the other end, producing a halftime score of 20-20.
The third was very much like the first two quarters.
Magee hit a 3 at the 7:08 mark before Gloff got three the old-fashioned way to tie the score. Eastern went ahead 27-23 before Fairfield got back on top at 28-27.
The Lions later held a 33-31 lead before Mya Hamilton and Kirsten Bailey both knocked down shots, giving Eastern a 35-33 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.
Fairfield’s Ella Newkirk dialed long distance with 6:59 remaining to put the Lions back on top at 36-35. But that was the final lead Fairfield would hold in its possession.
Utter and Gloff scored, making it 39-36, before Leonard drove through the lane for a bucket at the 5:29 mark for a 41-36 tally. Utter added another score with 3:27 to go before Leonard provided the dagger from deep, in transition, at the 2:58 mark — putting Eastern ahead 46-36 and capping an 11-0 game-changing run.
“That was a gutsy shot,” Pickerill said of Leonard’s 3-ball. “She wanted it and she took it. She knocked it down tonight. So kudos to her.”
The Lions continued to fight but the sudden burst of momentum from Eastern’s guards was ultimately too much to overcome in a 54-42 loss.
“I thought we did an excellent job passing the ball in the second half. Just making that one open pass and hitting the open player,” Pickerill said. “And we changed up the defense a little bit and that helped. Once we changed up, they kind of got settled in on hitting the 3 and going away from their post game a little bit. I thought that was a big key.”
Gloff led all scorers with 20 points alongside five rebounds and five assists while Leonard added 11 points and four assists. Utter followed with 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds while Hamilton ended the night with four points and four boards.
Fairfield’s scoring sheet was topped by Magee, who tallied 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Haines added eight points and a game-high nine rebounds while Donley had seven points.
What’s on tap
Eastern is back in conference action when they travel to Peebles on Monday. Meanwhile, Fairfield will have a bit of a break before going to East Clinton on Thursday.
“We definitely have to be able to box out and use our strengths,” Pickerill said. “If the ball isn’t falling, we have to move the ball around and get what’s best for us. [Peebles’ Payton] Johnson is a great athlete and [Peebles’ Kenzie] Morrison is a great athlete as well. That’s a great one-two punch that’s guard-oriented. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a battle. We expect to get their best punch. But that’s how you get better.”
Eastern: 7-13-15-19 — 54
Fairfield: 6-14-13-9 — 42
Eastern: 22-62 FG, 6-9 FT, 4-20 3pt., 27 rebounds (Utter 7), 11 turnovers, 15 assists (Gloff 5). Scoring: Gloff 20, Leonard 11, Utter 10, Hamilton 5, Prine 4, Dotson 2, Bailey 2.
Fairfield: 17-48 FG, 2-8 FT, 6-23 3pt., 29 rebounds (Haines 9), 18 turnovers, 12 assists (Magee 5). Scoring: Magee 13, Haines 8, Donley 7, Newkirk 4, Bronner 4, Quickle 4, Fouch 2.