DICK’S Nationals Game 5

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – It became a game of who would blink first. And by golly the game of survival went down to final nanosecond.

With a plethora of future Division I athletes willing their teams to victory, Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) eked one out. It took every fiber of resiliency and toughness to knock out a scrappy opponent from Baltimore.

After St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.) erased a 13-point lead bridging the final two quarters equalized at 40 at 4:40. The sense of urgency and finality crept into the fabric of an epic semifinal game on Friday morning.

It was a game of swings, both emotionally and with points. Hamilton Heights scored the first nine points of the contest and appeared cruised. St. Frances gallantly fought back and even peeled off 13 consecutive points in the fourth quarter.

When St. Frances dug themselves from that hole, it still took a buzzer-beating miracle from Angel Reese to force overtime. Reese’s put-back of a Delicia Pinnick scoop shot in heavy traffic knotted it at 50 much to the delight of a packed gymnasium.

That momentum carried into the extra session but Hamilton Heights survived. With St. Frances patiently winding down the clock for the final shot, it had two chances but a defensive presence in the lane ended it with the Lady Hawks prevailing, 56-55,
in the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament girls’ semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

This one was worthy of a championship game and featured 10 lead changes in the final 12 minutes. The game was played on a knife’s edge with a boisterous crowd fueling the delirium.

When freshman Elizabeth Balogun coolly sank two free throws with 21.3 seconds left it closed out the scoring and finished off the Lady Panthers, who went 30-1 after winning the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A and Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational championships.

Jatarrikah Settle and Kierra Jackson had potential game-winning shots for the Baltimoreans and a scramble for a loose ball underneath the basket bled the clock dry and Heights moved on to Saturday’s title game against Seton Catholic Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) or the nation’s No. 1 team Miami (Fla.) Country Day at 10 a.m. EDT (on ESPN2).

Six-foot-two freshman Angel Reese nearly willed her team to victory with an eye-popping 20-point, 24-rebound and 6-assist performance but it fell short. Temple-bound guard Nia Clouden had 12 points in her final prep game. Reese cleared 15 offensive boards as St. Frances had 18 second-chance points.

St. Frances held a 61-45 advantage on the glass mostly with unwavering perseverance.

Heights (29-1) feature a balanced attack and stuck to a tight seven-player rotation, with starters accruing the bulk of the playing time.

Junior Jazmine Massengill, a Tennessee recruit, contributed 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals but Balogun, a future All American and a native of Nigeria, was the show. Sister duo of Treasure and Amber Hunt netted 9 points apiece.

The real fun unfolded after halftime.

Just 50 seconds into the third, the long 6-6 freshman Kamilla Cardosa (from Brazil) picked up her third personal foul but it didn’t matter because Heights kicked it into high gear. Doumbia converted a transition hoop at 2:05 and the lead suddenly ballooned to 13 at 40-27.

The Maryland state champions regrouped in the final minute with baskets from Reese and Clouden to make it 40-31.

In the second quarter, the game tightened as St. Frances forged three ties before Hamilton Heights took a 25-21 lead into the intermission. Height closed on a 5-1 burst in the final 1:55. Massengill and Balogun each had 6 points for the Lady Hawks. The Heights lived up to their name, with a decisive size advantage and it showed in the paint as they outscored St. Frances, 20-4.

Heights outscored St. Frances, 34-22, inside for the game.

Reese contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds and Pinnick knocked down two 3s for 6 points but St. Frances shot a woeful 4 of 30 for 13.3% in the first half.

The Lady Panthers clawed back in the second, cutting the nine-point gap to 15-13 with four minutes to go in the half. Clouden’s two free throws with 3:26 left tied it at 15.

After Hamilton Heights scored the first nine points in the four minutes, Reese finally scored for the Lady Panthers, who trailed 9-3 at 2:20. Reese kept her close attacking the glass for 6 early rebounds.

When Massengill leaked out on the break with 13.4 seconds left and Heights went up 11-6 after one period.

Both teams saved the best for last and it was Hamilton Heights Christian surviving … barely.