First WOSSAA girls basketball title in 15 years enduring two tough games
Eagles now take aim improving on last year's quarterfinal appearance
November 16, 2023
By Rob J. Ross
LONDON, Ont. - East Elgin senior girls' basketball is battle ready as the team returns to the provincial championship.
The Eagles endured a pair of challenging games to capture their first WOSSAA title since 2008 and head back to OFSAA double-A basketball.
In the semifinals, the Eagles avenged a loss a year ago in the WOSSAA gold game, edging Stratford St. Mike's, 47-44. Then East Elgin had to come back in the second half to put out the fiery Woodstock College Avenue Knights, 49-44, for gold November 15 at South Collegiate.
"They're (CASS) a tough team. They showed up and took it to us. I'm proud that we didn't back down. We were running on fumes but we held them off," Eagles coach Sean Beilhartz said. "That morning game (versus St. Mike's) was a really tough game and probably our biggest win of the year. We were gassed and really, really tired."
Unlike the TVRA final a week earlier, when the Eagles soared away with a 41-29 win, the Knights arrived looking to slay.
The Eagles jumped out to a 8-0 lead in the opening minutes, but the Knights caught fire and led 24-19 at halftime. CASS took advantage of some poor Eagles' passes and several long connections of their own.
In the third quarter, turnovers created by Taryn Sullivan, defensive play and clutch shooting from Darah Farrow and Ellery Beilhartz, turned things in the Eagles' favour.
East Elgin, already without starter Reece Laidlaw, lost one of their six-foot three inch twins, Brooke Preszcator, after a hard fall to the floor from a push from behind.
"Down two starters, that's a big deal," Beilhartz said. "We had to adapt. I said to the kids, it's a soldier mentality, next person up. And a kid that stepped up for us and she got the game ball, because she's the reason we hung around and came back."
Darah Farrow became a force defensively and put away five points in the third quarter, when the Eagles outscored the Knights, 16-8.
"We're a second half team. We just pick up our pace and energy," Farrow said. "It's the ups and downs. We've taken hits but kept going. It's the process of getting up and knowing that we wanted it more than them."
Ellery Beilhartz made sure the Eagles held their lead, scoring five fourth quarter points, including a pair of free throws with 11 seconds remaining.
"They've some really nice players and they play well with the style they played," coach Beilhartz said of CASS. "We made some adjustments. We picked up full court and put some pressure on them and value the possession. That was the big thing going into (second half), making sure that we didn't get too excited, make a great play on defence and then just throw it away. We did calm ourselves down and look for the appropriate play."
Ellery finished with a game high 18 points, Sullivan had eight points and Farrow, seven.
St. Mike's won the bronze medal, sinking South, 63-20.
OFSAA AA 2023 is in Guelph, November 23-25.
"I love going places," Farrow said. "It's a really cool accomplishment and a great celebration for all of us."
The Eagles finished top eight in 2022, losing in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions from Sir Winston Churchill.
"We're enjoying the experience. It's really hard to get there," said coach Beilhartz, who guides a team to a fourth OFSAA in his 25 years coaching. "I've had some really strong teams that we've just never been able to do it, because so many things have to happen."
The Eagles were in the WOSSAA final the last time South hosted, in 2019, falling to London Mother Teresa.
"I remember their coach telling us that was the toughest game that they had all year," coach Beilhartz recalls.
East Elgin made OFSAA in 2006 and 2008 when current assistant coaches Katie Knight and Maggie Doan were players. The Eagles finished fourth in 2006, losing to eventual champion General Amherst in the semifinals on a buzzer beater.
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