Hamilton's work over three-plus quarters made Highland's bid at a desperate rally in the final few minutes a mute point on Friday night in the Division I girls state tournament.
Hamiilton built an 18-point lead a couple minutes into the final period and finally finished off Highland, 46-40, at Highland High.
The vicory moves No. 10 seed Hamilton to Tuesday's quarterfinals against No. 2 Mesquite. Mesquite escaped an upset bid by No. 15 Boulder Creek, winning 43-37, to earn another game in the tourney. Highland finished 22-9 and suffered a loss to Hamilton for the second time this season..
Three factors paved the way to Hamilton's triumph. The Lady Huskies played good defense most of the night, doing a good job packing it in on Highland's primary offensive threat, senior post Melinda Myers. Myers managed 15 points, including five quick ones in the third period to pull Highland within 20-16. By quarter's end the deficit was double digits (33-21). Add in Myers foul trouble throughout the game and some miserable outside shooting by Highland the first half on in to the third quarter and it wasn't meant to be the Lady Hawks' night.
“Defensively I thought we did a phenomenal job,” Hamilton coach Jeff Kain said. “Myers is a great player and we knew we had to do everything we could to limit her. The second half we changed things a little and reminded the girls to get out on their shooters a bit more. Offensively we talked about getting them to move side to side, swinging the ball, cutting and getting more movement. We felt at we could outrun at times when there was an opportunity.”
The best part of Hamilton's transition game came from seniors Ashlee Moore and Shelby Hartman. They scored 12 points apiece with Moore making all her shots on drives to the basket, putbacks or in transition. Sophomore Makayla Filiere and freshman Courtney Colleary chipped in with nine points each doing their damage mostly from the perimeter.
Hamilton led 14-9 after the first period, bolting to a 10-2 edge quickly. Highland closed the gap to 10-9, but over the next nearly eight minutes did not score. Fortunately for Highland, Hamilton couldn't connect on many shots either and took an 18-11 lead to halftime — Hamilton outscoring Highland 4-2 in the second period.
Highland coach Miner Webster's first reaction after the loss related to playing one good quarter and three not so good.
“i thought we had a lot of good looks in the first half,” Webster said. “We just didn't make any. They did a good job collapsing on Melinda and she get the ball in good positons very often…. This team showed glimpses of how good they could be, and we tried to get it channeled. Never could with any consistency.”
Highland made 3 of 24 shots from the field in the first half (13 percent); Hamilton 9 for 25 (36 percent). Several of Hamilton's buckets were in transition.
Highland made a run down 41-26 with 4:52 left. Myers got some baskets inside and reserve guard Kelsey Miranda sank two threes among four perimeter shots the Lady Hawks nailed down the stretch. The lead was sliced to 44-40 with 51 seconds left, but a pair of free throws by Hartman and good defense in the final seconds provided the final margin.