A layoff has done the Hamilton girls basketball team good.
Though the Huskies missed out on the Super Sectional tournament, ten days worth of rest and monotonous practices between the regular season and this week's state tournament hasn't been a hurdle as No. 10 Hamilton stretched its winning streak to nine consecutive games after it held on during a furious Highland comeback to win, 46-40, on Friday night at Highland High School.
Besides moving on to the Division I quarterfinals against No. 2 Mesquite next Tuesday at Arizona State, the Huskies double-dipped on a pair of "firsts" this season: A one-point win over No. 7 Highland in late January was the Huskies' first against the perennially elite Hawks in school history, and Friday's meant Hamilton earned its first win at Highland's gym in its history.
The Huskies (21-7) raced down the floor in transition and outran Highland's defense most of the night, coupled with crisp passing which led to balanced scoring in building a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.
"We looked to do a few little things better (than the first meeting)," Hamilton coach Jeff Kain said. "We attacked and dished the ball instead of trying to go up against their size because they're tall."
Highland went into desperation mode. After a miserable three quarters of shooting, got two 3-pointers from Kelsey Miranda, another from Kendall Perry, five points from Melinda Myers and looked nothing like the team from the previous 29 minutes. A few turnovers later the Hamilton lead went from 15 down to six with 2:22 left, but Shelby Hartman hit two free throws and the Huskies kept possession and drained the clock.
"We played one quarter," Highland coach Miner Webster said. "You have to play four."
Until the final three-minute flurry, Hamilton had its way. The Huskies successfully scored layups in transition off Highland misses, shared the ball freely with one another in half-court sets and created havoc with penetration which led to open jump shots on the wing.
A 15-point third quarter pushed Hamilton's 18-11 lead out to 13, 14 and 15 points, which the Huskies eventually needed near the end.
Hartman and Ashlee Moore each scored 12 points for Hamilton, while Courtney Colleary and Makayla Filiere each added nine. Myers led Highland with 15 points despite extended time on the bench with foul trouble, but the Hawks were 3 of 24 from the floor in the first half, and, until the final three minutes, that percentage didn't improve drastically despite good looks.
It capped a frustrating season by Highland standards, in which the Hawks couldn't find any consistency on offense outside of Myers' play inside (15 points), and a lack of varsity experience led to uneven nights on a weekly basis. Moments of reaching their potential weren't sustained.
Miranda added 10 points and Mary Eckenrode added eight in the loss.
"I don't know if we had a kid we've relied on more in a season than (Myers)," Webster said.
The Huskies lost to Mesquite, 46-36, in mid-December, though without Moore.
With a nod to Hamilton's transition game, and Moore and her accomplished track and field talents, the quarterfinals matchup could be about putting on the running shoes.
"You have to move around, if you play their style of defense you'll struggle against them," Kain said. "We're not the biggest team, but we have a little more speed and used it to our advantage."
No. 10 Hamilton 46, No. 7 Highland 40
Ham 14 4 15 13 -- 46
High 9 2 10 19 -- 40
Hamilton: Courtney Colleary 9, Shelby Hartman 12, Ashlee Moore 12, Makayla Filiere 9, Hannah Tharalson 4
Highland: Kendall Perry 3, Mary Eckenrode 8, Kelsey Miranda 10, Melinda Myers 15, Hadley Nielson 4
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.