Eastwood’s journey takes them one game from regionals

Yaneek Smith

As the saying goes, “It’s not the destination but the journey.”
        For the Eastwood boys basketball team, their season was filled with marquee victories and indelible moments, making for memories that will last well beyond this point. 
        Eastwood’s season ended just short of a spot in the regional tournament when the Eagles lost to Colonel Crawford, 37-30, in the Division III district finals. 
        It was yet another successful season for a program that has reached new heights in the last decade. The Eagles, which finished 18-7, won their first two games in the tournament in dramatic fashion by a combined three points following 16 wins in the regular season and a third-place finish (10-4) in the Northern Buckeye Conference. Since 2009, Eastwood has gone 182-100 (.645), won four league titles, six sectional championships, a district title in 2015, which was the first in over five decades for the program, and accumulated a record of 15-12 in the postseason.
        “We just had one of those seasons where we found ways to win, different ways to win. One night, it might be (Jake) Meyer, then Christian (Peters) — we did it the whole year. It was a different guy every night,” said Eastwood coach Todd Henline, now in his second stint coaching at his alma mater.
        “The hard part is when you lose your point guard (in injured) Noah (Henline). His numbers weren’t great, but he was the leader of the team who settles guys down and gets us into our offense. Isaac (Badenhop) made the adjustment, and it took away from his scoring, but he didn’t complain. That’s what I would say this team is known for — they just did what they had to do to win games.” 
        The tournament run featured two incredible finishes that saw the Eagles hold off Collins Western Reserve, 52-50, in overtime in the district semifinals, and in the sectional finals, Eastwood edged Northern Buckeye Conference rival Fostoria, 39-38.
        The victory over the Roughriders saw Western Reserve miss a wide open layup that would’ve won the game before Jake Meyer was fouled after getting the rebound. He would sink two free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining to account for the margin of victory. Save for two ties, the Eagles led the Roughriders for the entire game until overtime. In the extra session, Western Reserve opened the scoring with a 4-0 run before 3-pointers by Jake Halko and Badenhop tied the score at 50-50.
        In the win over the Redmen, Badenhop converted a four-point play with 45.9 seconds to play to give Eastwood a 39-38 lead before Fostoria missed on multiple opportunities to win the game at the end.
        “That’s been the story of the season, these guys play with a lot of heart and desire,” said Henline, who holds a career record of 124-61 (.670) with the club. “And we’ve won a lot of close games because they’re a tight group, they hung together. It was about one guy picking the next guy up. I hope our younger kids were watching that. This group did a great job with their backs against the wall, (that’s when) we saw their true character.
        “I would say the biggest effect — it shuffled guys into different roles. Isaac took his scoring hat off, he had to be the guy to get us under control and get us into our offense. It forced our next man to step up. That’s probably the biggest way it affected us. That’s what a good team does, that’s what a good teammate does. We did that most of the year.”
        The two marquee victories from the regular season were road wins against Archbold (57-54 in overtime) and Ottawa Hills (49-38) — two teams that squared off in a district semifinal at Central Catholic’s Sullivan Center Thursday night with the Blue Streaks advancing.
        This was the final season for six Eastwood seniors — Henline, Halko (9.8 pts., 7.2 reb.), Christian Peters (10.5 pts., 5.6 reb.), Jaden Rayford, Griffin Coffield and Caleb Peters. But with the likes of Meyer (12.8 pts., 8.2 reb.), Badenhop, Jake Limes, Heath Hagg, who was injured this season, Lake Boos, Max Buchman and Emmet Getz returning, there is reason to be optimistic about the future.
        “I ask a lot of my seniors to lead by example, and this group hit it out of the park. I had several seniors that did a lot of things for the team. Praying on the floor (after the game) with our opponents — that came from them,” Henline said.
        “We’re a team that competes hard, they like to compete, but they do it in a classy way. I have guys who are going to be successful in life. I’ve known four or five of them since third grade on up. Those guys, I have a lot of great memories for them. This group means a lot to me.”
        As with any successful program, it’s a group effort that requires lofty expectations to be met. There must be community support, good athletes and quality coaches. When people think of Eastwood sports, football and track and field come to mind. But now basketball is making its mark.
        “The foundation is very solid. When I first became the head coach, we were losing kids to wrestling. When I became the head coach (during my first stint), I started with the first and second graders to get the kids interested,” said Henline.
        “We’ve reaped the benefits, spent a lot of time with our youth, and I have a staff that has been with me for a while. We’re getting athletes. I think (the success) fuels itself. The next group wants to carry on that tradition. They’re thinking, ‘We can’t be that team that lets (the program) down.’ Why are we playing Archbold, Ottawa Hills? I want us to play tougher teams so it becomes easier when you get (in the tournament).”
        Henline believes that last year’s overtime loss to Elmwood in the sectional finals also helped fuel this year’s hunger for greatness.
        “We lost to Elmwood and (would’ve played eventual state final four qualifier) Cardinal Stritch,” he said. “I look back at that loss, (and) we needed that just for that experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if my younger kids watched us get to the district finals, and that’s what fuels the fire, the hunger. That’s hopefully a motivation for my younger kids to keep playing hard.”


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