MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. — Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) overcame the best St. Frances Academy (Baltimore) could give for a 56-55 overtime win Friday in a girls semifinal at the DICK’S High School Nationals.
Junior guard Elizabeth Balogun had 14 points and nine rebounds to lead the Hawks (29-1), including three key free throws in overtime. Junior Jazmine Massengill had 12 points and six rebounds. Though HHCA is a young team, Balogun and Massengill gave the Hawks enough experience to overcome the pressure.
“The biggest difference between when this team was young and starting is we didn’t have upper-classmen leaders,” coach Keisha Hunt said. “Now, we do have good freshman and we do have two seasoned players who know what it takes to win a game and those freshman can draw on that power. Before, we would lose the close games because we didn’t have the leadership we do now.”
Freshman guard Angel Reese led St. Frances with 24 rebounds and 20 points, including nine points in the fourth quarter, none bigger than a putback at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. She also hit two free throws to put St. Frances up 55-54 early in overtime.
“Angel Reese had a great game and Mia Davis (who had 13 points) played stellar,” St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton said. “Angel’s mother was a very good rebounder. I think she led the nation at (University of Maryland-Baltimore County). She has good basketball DNA and great instincts. She wants the ball and essentially good rebounding is getting the ball.”
Reese had a chance to win the game at the last second, but she was swarmed by the Hawks’ defense.
“We were in a zone but we still had to match up with (Reese),” Hunt said. “We did lose her a little bit in the game in the fourth quarter. We’ve played other teams with players who are almost as good as her, but if you’re going to let one or two players beat you, you don’t deserve to win.”
Balogun and Massengill were cramping up in overtime, but Hunt said she expects them to be ready for Miami Country Day (Miami) in Saturday’s final.
“We want to rehydrate, stay off our feet and enjoy New York City a little bit,” Hunt said. “We said from day one that it is not a field trip, we’re here to play basketball and they love the game of basketball.”
A key point in the game came with six minutes to go in the third quarter when HHCA’s 6-6 freshman center, Kamilla Cardosa, picked up her fourth foul as the Hawks led 29-25. Instead of falling apart, the Hawks stepped it up offensively and began to pull away. They led 40-31 going into the fourth quarter.
“There were some little things we didn’t do right at the very end of regulation,” Hunt said. “The thing I know about my girls is they’re never going to quit. Kamilla is real important, but she’s also really young and she makes some freshman mistakes. One thing that is special about us is we’re not a one-player team.”
St. Frances turned it on though, going on an 11-0 run to tie it at 40 on a three-pointer by Nia Clouden. The Hawks responded with a three-pointer of their own by Amber Hunt, signaling the game would come down to the wire.
“We got a lot of support from our city,” Reese said. “I think that we had a chance to show why we were 30-0. We weren’t going to settle for 30-0, we wanted to be 31-0 and 32-0. We always wanted to keep that zero at the end.”
Hamilton Heights took a 9-0 run to start the game, but St. Frances (30-1), led by Reese, who had seven points in the first half, came back and tied the score at 15 on two free throws by Nia Clouden. The Panthers even took the lead briefly before the Hawks made another run. Massengill, a junior who has committed to Tennessee and junior wing Balogun each had six first-half points for HHCA.
Both teams came into the event with impressive postseason tournament wins. HHCA won the National Association of Christian Athletes tournament and the National Prep tournament and St. Frances, the Interscholastic Association of Maryland A champion, won the Bishop Walsh invitational.