Ashlee Moore didn't play in Hamilton's first meeting with Mesquite back in mid-December - a 10-point win for Mesquite - but the Huskies' senior guard played in the Division I quarterfinals on Tuesday night, and helped put the"X-factor" cliche back into truth.
The Huskies' track standout took to elevating her shot in the final minutes at Wells Fargo Arena when she hit a 3-pointer to give the seventh-seeded Huskies the lead for good, then helped seal it with a free throw in the final minute of a 46-41 win over No. 2 Mesquite.
The five-point margin of victory was the largest differential enjoyed by either team for all 32 minutes.
The "upset" (based on seeding) sent Hamilton (23-7) to a third consecutive Division I state semifinals, this time against No. 6 Avondale Westview on Friday at Wells Fargo Arena.
With ball-handling and defensive duties at a premium against the high-powered, athletic Wildcats, Moore only had one point (a free throw) through the first three-and-a-half quarters. But her four points in the final 2:30 proved pivotal when both teams struggled to make shots during a physical stretch run.
She hit an open 3-pointer from the wing with 2:45 left in regulation to re-claim the lead for Hamilton at 43-41.
"That was big," said Huskies coach Jeff Kain, who was yelling for Moore to attack the basket in the second leading up to her shot.
The Wildcats had multiple opportunities in the ensuing 90 seconds, but twice the ball rimmed out, coupled with a turnover.
Then Moore was fouled and hit a free throw with 47 seconds left to give the Huskies a 44-41 lead. Cecily Wilson (19 points) missed a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left, and the Huskies - who controlled the rebounding game throughout - never gave Mesquite another chance to tie. Sophomore Makayla Filiere hit two free throws with 12 seconds left to end the game.
Mesquite (26-6) averaged 56 points per game this season before tipoff, but the Wildcats struggled with its outside shooting, and beyond Wilson's 19, no other Wildcat scored more than six points as the Wildcats struggled offensively for a second consecutive game.
"We missed some easy shots. We reach our average (for the season), we win the game," Mesquite coach Candice Gonzales said. "We just fell short on offense. They weren't missing, they made a lot of outside shots, and they got a ton of offensive rebounds.
"It's disappointing but myself and the girls have a lot to be proud of."
The Huskies don't boast much size, but their backcourt and quick passes successfully navigated Mesquite's pressure defense. The Huskies struggled offensively early in the season, but they managed to get the ball into the middle of the floor and set up Filiere (13 points) and Shelby Hartman (13 points).
Without much size, the Huskies relied on the epitome of Moore for 30 minutes - quickness, decision-making and ball-handling skills - until Moore stuck the proverbial landing.
"We're not big and we've relied on jump shooting and sharing the ball most of the year," Kain said. "Hitting outside shots with some consistency is kind of nice."
Hamilton 46, Mesquite 41
Hamilton 8 8 20 10 -- 46
Mesquite 9 7 17 8 -- 41
Hamilton: Shelby Hartman 13, Payton Whitmore 5, Ashlee Moore 5, Makayla Filiere 13, Hannah Thoralson 2, Raegan Friend 6
Mesquite: Rebecca Tilley 4, Aaliyah Bryant 5, Hunter Aalona 1, Isabelle Spruit 4, Cecily Wilson 19, Alexis Springfield 2, Vanessa Borajas 6
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.