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East Palestine celebrates EOAC title

EAST PALESTINE — Even with limited fans in the stands, it was apparent from the opening tip that this was an important game for the East Palestine Bulldogs.

With an Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference league title on the line, the Bulldogs brought high energy and high intensity and defeated the Columbiana Clippers 65-47 on Thursday, clinching its first league title.

East Palestine is 8-2 overall and 7-2 in the league, while Columbiana is 11-8 overall and 9-4 in the league. It ends Columbiana’s run of seven straight league titles.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” East Palestine coach Will Franklin said. “All the hardwork and all the obstacles we went through this year, it really shows the kids determination. Even with all of the problems we had this year they were still focused and it shows hardwork pays off.”

Suffice to say, the Bulldog players agree.

“It feels good,” senior Joclyn Fristik said. “We worked our whole season for this. Even during (quarantine) we studied and I think we deserved it.”

“It’s the best thing ever,” senior Morgan Rutledge said. “We knew coming into today that it would be tough because Columbiana is a great team with great players, but we wanted it so bad and it feels amazing.”

Fristik had 25 points and five three-pointers. Rutledge added 14.

“We work hard every single day and we never take a break,” Fristik said. “Every second we are on the floor we give it our all.”

The EOAC is crowning a first-half champion and an overall champion this season in the league. The first-half winner was Valley Christian and East Palestine’s win gave the Bulldogs the overall crown. United and Valley Christian each have three losses.

“This is a big momentum win for us,” Franklin said. “This is only our 10th game. It is technically our halfway point in the season and you fix a lot of things in between games 1 and 10. We are hitting our stride at the right time.”

Senior Grace Witmer led the Clippers with 31 points.

“She’s just such class act,” Columbiana coach Dave Chrismon said. “A coach’s dream type kid. Great in the classroom and has great leadership qualities. It just flows through her and she makes it look so effortless. She took it upon herself to guide a very young team.”

Crismon added “she’s just a natural.”

East Palestine took a 38-26 lead into the half in a blistering first half offensive performance.

“Our shot selection was better,” Franklin said. “Obviously, our kids were real excited to play this game tonight and had a lot of emotions. They controlled their emotions well and had a lot of good shots fall.”

“They hit every shot they shot,” Crismon said. “It’s kind of hard to play defense when it is all going in. I just kept telling my girls that eventually they would miss but they didn’t miss. We were still effective on offense but we just couldn’t get a stop.”

For the Bulldogs, after having multiple COVID pauses and not starting the season until Jan. 11, this is one feeling they won’t forget anytime soon.

“We couldn’t do it without coach (Franklin),” Rutledge said. “Every time we got shut down, he was there making us get on Zooms and watching film.”

“They have been our leaders,” Franklin said about the seniors.

With just one senior, Columbiana will look to compete for another league title next season.

“I have just seen a huge growth in our kids,” Crismon said. “Besides Grace and Tori, our kids have not had varsity exposure. They had to step up and fill some shoes.

“Super proud of these kids and the strides they have made.”

Game notes

• In jayvee action, East Palestine won 32-24. For the Bulldogs, Mackenzie Parker had 11 points.

• East Palestine won their first matchup against Columbiana, 44-43 on Feb. 8.

• No. 12 seed Columbiana won its sectional opener against Pymatuning Valley on Wednesday. The Clippers will face No. 4 seed Champion on Saturday.

“They are a four seed for a reason,” Crismon said. “It is going to be a challenge but we are going to go compete and the girls are up for the challenge.”

• East Palestine will play at Burton Berkshire on Saturday in a sectional final.

“We were so focused on this we kept the blinders on,” Franklin said. “We weren’t looking ahead. This was our most important thing right now and we will celebrate this tonight and then tomorrow get to work on Burton Berkshire.”

E. PALESTINE: 19-19-14-13–65

COLUMBIANA: 13-13-10-11–47

EAST PALESTINE SCORING: Patience Champney 5-2-13, Payton Sherry 3-0-7, Mia Lee 3-0-6, Joclyn Fristik 9-0-25, Morgan Rutledge 5-4-14, Faith Figley 0-0-0, Hope Figley 0-0-0, Savannah Jones 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 25, 8-8: 65.

COLUMBIANA SCORING: Grace Witmer 10-8-31, Tori Long 3-0-7, Alaina Johnston 1-0-2, Addie Zohnd 1-1-3, Ryleigh Zohnd 1-0-2, Cassie Spaite 1-0-2, Alayna Kyser 0-0-0, Camryn Gotthardt 0-0-0, Brileigh Kocanjer 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 9-12: 47.

Three-point goals: Columbiana 4 (Witmer 3, Long), East Palestine 7 (Fristik 5, Sherry, Champney).

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