Feb 08, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Continuing to surge in the homestretch, the Hamilton girls basketball team had more chances to build up its mark before the Section III Class D playoffs start.
None were more important than Thursday’s battle with defending champion Rome Catholic — and few wins could have been as satisfying as the Emerald Knights edging the Red Wings 64-63 with some last-second drama.
With the score tied 63-63 and just one second left, Liz Unger was fouled taking a 3-point shot. With three free throws, Unger missed the first, but made the second, giving Rome Catholic no time to answer even as she missed the third attempt.
By winning, Hamilton tied Rome Catholic and West Canada Valley for top honors in Division III of the Center State Conference, each with 8-2 league marks.
This culminated a night where Unger, in her last regular-season home outing, put home 28 points, half of them from free throws. Every one of those points would be needed in a battle that had a playoff-like intensity, plus playoff-like excitement, from beginning to end.
Rome Catholic tore up Hamilton’s defense in the first quarter, scoring at will and building a 26-17 edge as the Emerald Knights still tried to focus itself after all the Senior Night festivities.
At one point in the second quarter, Hamilton’s deficit grew to 11 before it started to rally, cutting the margin to 39-32 by halftime and making up the rest of it in the third period, going in front 48-46 late in that frame.
Junking the defense that wasn’t working early, the Emerald Knights used at triangle-and-two set to frustrate everyone on Rome Catholic except Madison Slagle, who led the Red Wings with 29 points.
It helped, too, that several Red Wing players hit foul trouble. Two starters, Meredith Merchant (who has more than 1,000 career points) and Marissa Keller would foul out, and others would get whistled often, too, giving both Unger and Kylie Martin something close to free rein.
Martin, dominating the boards, finished with 18 points and 20 rebounds, but would save her most important play for the end.
All through a tense fourth quarter, the two sides remained in lockstep, even though Hamilton went more than three minutes without a field goal at one point. Unger’s basket with 1:41 left broke the drought and put the Emerald Knights ahead, 59-57.
Then Hamilton built the lead to 63-59 in the final minute, only to see Merchant hit a 3-pointer and, after an Unger free throw, sink two foul shots of her own with six seconds left to forge a 63-63 tie.
That was more than enough time for Martin to pass to Unger and watch as the senior drew contact with a second to play — then deliver victory.
Three days earlier, the Emerald Knights’ game at West Canada Valley was a nervous affair, but a big fourth-quarter surge produced a 44-34 victory over the Indians.
All through the first three periods, Hamilton found itself off balance, made so by a WCV defense that was doing all within its power to keep Unger and Martin from finding their offensive rhythm.
And when the Indians made a big run in the third quarter, taking a 28-24 lead, Hamilton appeared to be in some danger.
However, in the final period, both Unger and Martin overwhelmed WCV’s pressure and surged to the lead, also making the free throws in the last minutes to pull clear.
Unger finished with 17 points, with Martin close behind as she got 14 points. Peterson accumulated 15 rebounds to go with her six points, as Kati Baker added seven points. Kim Brockwell (11 points) and Adrianna Maxwell (10 points) led the Indians’ attack.
Hamilton will see on Tuesday where it will be placed for the Section III Class D playoffs.