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Unger free throw sends Hamilton past Rome Catholic

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.

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