Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — If you’ve ever wondered what runs through Rylee Leonard’s veins, the answer is ice.
With 5.8 seconds left in regulation Saturday, Eastern Brown’s star freshman decided she’d take matters into her own hands. With the ball at the top of the key, Leonard drove right, squeezed through two defenders and sunk the biggest basket of the Warriors’ season to date.
The bucket gave Eastern Brown (24-1) a 41-40 lead and momentum to put the finishing touches on a 43-40 victory over Oak Hill in a Division III district championship — marking the program’s first district crown since 2017 and the 13th in history.
“I was like, ‘Well, we have to get a bucket here’ and I just was like, ‘I got it.’ I just had confidence in myself,” Leonard said. “It’s not the first time I’ve done that. So I kept my composure and did what I had to do.”
For the second straight game, Leonard led the Warriors in scoring … and did so by pouring in fourth quarter points. She posted 12 points, eight of which came in the fourth, and finished 6-of-6 at the free throw line, all of which came in the closing minutes.
To put it lightly, Leonard took the Oaks’ chances of winning, threw them out and then slammed the door shut.
But, of course, her work is never finished.
“This week, we have to above [and beyond],” Leonard said. “We have to work on perfecting things, the little details. For example, our posts setting the screens. For me, I have to bring a lot of intensity and, again, do what I have to do to make my team win.”
Before Leonard’s shot, and after it for that matter, Eastern found itself in a dogfight.
After Cam Pickerill hit a 3 with 6:25 left in the first quarter to give the Warriors a 3-1 lead, Oak Hill’s Olivia Clarkson gave the Oaks an 8-5 edge with back-to-back buckets.
But Eastern’s Juanita Frost answered with back-to-back triples, giving the Warriors an 11-10 advantage heading into the second.
Caitlyn Brisker hit a pair of free throws, forced a turnovers and a scored a breakaway basket, putting Oak Hill ahead 14-11. But when Emma Prine hit a 3 and Emma Brown got a putback to fall, the Warriors were off and running to a 13-3 burst, taking a 24-17 lead into halftime.
Led by Brisker, the Oaks (16-9) answered with a run of their own in the third.
The senior hit a 3 with 5:15 to go, cutting the deficit to 28-24, scored again with 4:14 left, making it 29-27, and eventually gave her team a 34-33 lead with 6:12 left in the fourth.
With 49.6 seconds left, Oak Hill’s Baylee Howard made it a 40-37 game on the other end before Brown got another putback to fall with just 24.4 seconds left, making it 40-39.
After Oak Hill missed two free throws on the other end, Leonard decided she’d seen enough.
With the ball at her fingertips and the clock ticking, she watched the biggest shot of her career fall and sent Eastern Brown’s faithful into a frenzy.
“Winning a district title, that’s not something everybody gets to do,” Pickerill said. “Last year, I remember falling to the ground after Wheelersburg beat us. That was really painful. Getting a silver medal is not the goal. We wanted gold. I told the girls before the game that we don’t want to feel that pain again. Rylee picked us up. So this is amazing. It’s a great feeling.”
Oak Hill was whistled for traveling on its next possession, fouled Leonard, and the freshman calmly sunk both to produce the day’s final tally.
After Leonard’s 12 points, Emma Prine finished with nine points and five boards, Mackenzie Gloff had seven points and five rebounds, and Brown posted four points and 10 rebounds.
Brisker led all scorers with 20 points while Clarkson had 12 points and six rebounds. Howard also helped out, scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds.
Eastern advances to a Division III regional semifinal at 8 p.m., Wednesday at Logan. That night, Pickerill and friends will take on a familiar foe in North Adams.
The two split games this season in Southern Hills Athletic Conference action. Eastern won a 55-51 battle on Jan. 6 while the Green Devils got their revenge on Feb. 6, winning 39-31.
Make no mistake about it, the Warriors are in for another dogfight.
“Winning the regional final [as a sophomore] was the best feeling ever,” Pickerill said. “Our regional final opponent that year, we beat by 11 or 12. Going into the North Adams game, it’s going to be more of a challenge. It’s going to bring a lot more hype. We’re seven miles from each other. It’s exciting but we have to keep calm and keep our composure.”
Oak Hill: 10-7-13-10 — 40
Eastern Brown: 11-13-9-10 — 43
Oak Hill: 10-31 FG, 18-25 FT, 2-12 3 pt., 22 rebounds (Clarkson 6), 12 turnovers, 4 assists (Brisker 2). Scoring: Brisker 20, Clarkson 12, Bay. Howard 5, Chambers 2, Bro. Howard 1.
Eastern Brown: 15-41 FG, 7-12 FT, 6-17 3 pt., 31 rebounds (Brown 10), 16 turnovers, 7 assists (Wills 2). Scoring: Leonard 12, Prine 9, Gloff 7, Frost 6, Brown 4, Pickerill 3, Wills 2.