Before the Eagles lost 81-46 to Brownstown for homecoming Jan. 21, they knew they were in for a battle.

Brownstown is ranked No. 2 in Class 3A and 16th in the state.

Brown County was ranked 92 in Class 3A and 382nd in the state.

Yet, for a team that is 2-9 this season, this year’s Eagles actually improved a little over the 85-47 loss last year’s 15-8 team suffered to Brownstown.

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The Braves have not lost a game all season, and there was no statistical reason to expect they would lose to Brown County. By the end of the first quarter, they already had a 12-point lead.

Yet, the Eagles fought for every point, to the last second.

“One of the things we’re always trying to get out of these guys is a level of toughness,” Eagles head coach Chuck Hutchins said. “Sometimes, when times get hard, we don’t always respond with a level of grit and toughness that I think a basketball team needs.

“And I think tonight, for the most part, we showed that we were tougher than we had been,” he said. “We knew we were playing a really good team. I think we showed a level of toughness that we need to continue to show.”

Braves head coach Dave Benter said he expected a fight coming to Brown County.

“We did not take them lightly at all,” he said. “We knew that we had to come in and play well.

“This is a tough place to play. They’ve got a good atmosphere, and a good student section, and you know, they play hard. They’re well-coached,” Benter said.

Brown County did not manage to get closer than 8 points after the first quarter. They were still within 9 points of the Braves seconds before the half ended, when a last-second tip-in took the Braves’ lead to double digits.

The Eagles kept after the Braves well into the second half, but with 1:46 left in the third quarter, the Braves started to widen the gap.

“We couldn’t take care of the ball the first six minutes of the second half,” Benter said. “As soon as we started taking care of the ball after that time-out, I thought we played really well the last 10 minutes of the game.”

Hutchins said that he was pleased, overall, with how the team performed.

Junior Isaiah Keefauver may have played his best game of the season, and junior Ezra Scully — who led the team in scoring — played “his tail off” as he always does, Hutchins said.

“We knew they were going to come and bring a lot of defensive pressure — full-court pressure — and cause a lot of turnovers,” he said. “And that’s really been an Achilles’ heel for us, turning it over too much.”

Though they didn’t take the win, the Eagles still had takeaways.

“I was pleased, and I think we saw some things tonight that are really gonna help us with our remaining games, things to build on,” Hutchins said.

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.