Eastwood's players may not be aware of it, but they were on the brink of making school history.
The Eagles took a 20-2 record into Wednesday's Division II boys district semifinal game against Kenton at Ashland University. Had they defeated the Wildcats and followed with a district championship, they would have become only the second Eastwood team in school history to reach the regional tournament.
The school record for boys’ basketball victories in a season was set by the 1966-67 Eastwood team that finished 22-1, losing to Sandusky in the district finals.
The last Eagles boys’ team to reach the regional tournament was the 1960 squad, which lost to Toledo Scott at the University of Toledo Field House in the Class AA regional semifinals.
The current Eastwood squad, coached by Todd Henline, did become the first Eagles team to finish unbeaten (14-0) in the Suburban Lakes League, and they took a seven-game winning streak into the district tournament.
No Eastwood boys’ team has ever played in the state tournament. A win over Kenton would send the Eagles into the district finals against either Tiffin Columbian or Galion. The Eagles came up short, losing to Kenton 47-33, but they enjoyed the ride.
(The only local tournament hope is the Genoa boys, which faced Tinora at Napoleon Thursday night in the Division III district semifinal.)
"Each game it seems to be that this group is getting tighter and more hungry," Henline said just prior to the Kenton game. "Every level you make, it seems like it keeps building. I sense that right now. When the tournament started, I didn't feel we were ready to make that run. It seemed like we really hadn't clicked, where we've played our best game yet. I don't think we have, by any stretch of the imagination.
"We've had that focus these last two tournment games. The kids are getting closer and that drive is starting to build. We've talked, going into the Bellevue (sectional) game, that we have yet this year to be denied on our goals. When we got to about 9-0 or 10-0 in SLL, the kids wanted to be undefeated in the SLL. Another goal was to go undefeated at home and we accomplished that. The sectional title, we accomplished that. When we started the season, the goal has been to make it to regionals. It seems like it's coming together for them."
Last year the Eagles bowed out of the sectional after just one game, losing to Clyde. Henline said he brought up that loss prior to Eastwood's sectional opener last week against Norwalk.
"I thought we played well last year against Clyde," Henline said. "We just couldn't get over that hump at the end. After Norwalk, I said we found a way to win and that was a great experience tool. With four juniors who are giving me quality minutes, it was a great experience for them. It was special for these guys and a good experience."
The Eagles have advanced behind outstanding defensive play. They nipped Norwalk 38-37 on March 3 at Sandusky, then came back to rip Northern Ohio League tri-champion Bellevue 52-37 for the sectional title on March 6.
"Going in, I thought Bellevue was one of the better offensive teams we've played all year," Henline said. "They presented different challenges than we had faced all year. Clayton Ruch really stepped up. He shut down one of their kids, Curt Watson, who was averaging around 22 points in their last four or five games."
Henline said Eastwood's defense, which has been solid all season, has been an even bigger factor in the tournament. The Eagles allowed 46 points a game during the regular season and have been even better in the postseason.
"We've been able to force other guys from the other teams to have to step up," Henline said. "We've taken away the main scorers from other teams and it's been effective. This time of year, we're getting a number of different looks. To our kids' credit, they've stepped up."
Henline also praised the Eagles' raucous student section for sticking with the team.
"We have a great student section," he said. "There are four or five students in that section who have gone to every away game and stayed until the team got out of the showers. We have a neat group right now and they are behind them, and the players feel like they are behind them."