By Josh Sigler
SHARPSVILLE — Just when it may seem as if the prep athletic career of Eastern senior Bethany Neeley couldn’t get more decorated, she goes out and outdoes herself once again.
Already a state champion in track and field and a three-time state qualifier in cross country, Neeley added yet another feather to her cap Tuesday night, scoring 24 points to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for her basketball career in the Class 2A No. 7-ranked Comets’ 63-43 road win over Tri-Central.
The 35th girl in Howard County history to eclipse the mark, Neeley joins her twin sister, Brittany, in the 1,000-point club, making the duo the first twins in county history to share such an honor.
“This is pretty cool,” Bethany said. “It doesn’t compare to the state title in track. But, it’s pretty special because I’m a runner, not a basketball player. Everyone looks at us as runners. I really wanted Brittany to have a special year like this, and I’m glad I can share this with her.”
Bethany became the fifth girl in school history to reach the mark, joining Brittany (1,187 after Tuesday night), Beth Dean (1,113), Brenda Nicholson (1,072) and Stephanie Cheek (1,007) in the 1,000-point club, further cementing the sisters’ legacies at Eastern High School.
“I’ve talked numerous about what Bethany and Brittany have meant to me personally, let alone our basketball program,” Eastern coach Jeremy Dexter said. “They’re just great kids and great role models. It was really important to get [the milestone] before we start to try and reach some of our season goals in the postseason.”
Bethany entered Tuesday night needing 21 points in her regular-season finale to reach the milestone. She scored 11 points in the first half on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 firing from the free throw line, leaving her 10 short of the mark with two quarters to play as the Class 2A No. 7-ranked Comets bolted to a 34-17 halftime lead.
Bethany came out of the locker room locked in, scoring Eastern’s first 13 points of the second half to reach the mark.
With 3:55 remaining in the third quarter, she snatched a long rebound and hit a layup from the left side of the rim in transition to go over the mark at the 3:49 mark.
Tri-Central stopped the clock to acknowledge the milestone as the Comets faithful gave Bethany a standing ovation. She exited a few minutes later to another warm round of applause.
“We really didn’t address it a ton at halftime,” Dexter said. “We just said, ‘Let it come to you. She needs 10.’ We were really playing tight at times once we got that early lead. They just wanted to get it out of the way for her. They force fed her the basketball and she got out in transition some.”
Bethany finished the night 9 of 20 from the field and 5 of 6 from the line. She added 10 rebounds and a pair of steals — she leads the area in both categories.
“She was more excited for me than I was when I hit [the milestone],” sister Brittany explained. “[Tuesday], I was more excited for her than she was. She made free throws early and didn’t look nervous. She thought she wasn’t having a great game but I told her to be grateful for what she has. You’re not going to play a perfect game, but you’re going to get to 1,000.”
The milestones come in a year where Eastern will enter the postseason with a 17-3 record and a top-10 ranking in the Class 2A poll. Bethany said she felt blessed to be able to enjoy such success with the personal accolade.
“During my first couple years of high school we didn’t have any post play,” Bethany said. “It was five guards on the court and run the ball. Now, Taylor [Holliday] is down there rebounding and Ally [Oyler] can hit the 3. I said during my senior speech last week that it’s really nice if Brittany or I have an off game, they’re there to light it up. I think that can take us far in the tournament. If we play well, that’ll be what’s key for us.”
Bethany had already added a state championship in the 1,600-meter run last spring as a junior before adding a fifth-place finish in the cross country state finals this fall. The Comets finished seventh as a team.
Eastern delivered TC an early knockout punch, scoring the first 19 points of the game before building the lead up to as much as 33 early in the fourth quarter.
Brittany enjoyed an outstanding game as well, finishing the night with 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals. Oyler added 11 points and hit a trio of 3-pointers for the Comets.
Cecelia Rayl led Tri-Central with 12 points, while Hadley DeWeese added nine points. Shelby Ramsey and Megan Randles both pulled down seven rebounds for the Trojans (5-15), who have lost six straight.