After Chandler Hamilton’s final shot bounced off the rim, Chandler Basha secured the rebound and the final buzzer sounded to give Basha the win, you’d never know it was still the regular season by the way Basha’s players exploded onto the court in celebration.
“That felt like we won the championship,” Basha senior Jacey Kitamura said.
It wasn’t a state title, but Friday’s game was an occasion almost as momentous, a 47-44 home victory that gave Basha its first win over Hamilton in program history.
Afterward, Basha coach Rich Meseroll was just as ecstatic as his players.
“I’m fired up,” he said. “This is the best group of girls I’ve ever been around in my life. We just wanted to finally beat Hamilton. We had to kick the door through.”
The Division I, Section II showdown certainly didn’t disappoint, as the No. 8 and No. 10 teams in azcentral sports’ Division I rankings kept things close all the way to the end.
After Hamilton (12-6) took a 19-17 lead into halftime, the third quarter was a blur of action, featuring 10 lead changes on 12 made baskets, including five 3-pointers.
The fourth quarter was nearly as frenetic, with Basha (14-4) possessing the lead for most of the period but never going up by more than four points.
Kitamura led Basha with 13 points, none more important than the four free throws she made down the stretch to protect Basha’s advantage.
Adding a twist to Friday’s story line, Kitamura transferred from Hamilton after her freshman season, making it even more satisfying as she coolly sank all four foul shots in the final minute.
“It was a lot of emotions,” she said. “I knew that I had to make them for us to win. It was pressure, but I had to knock them down, so I did.”
Her last free throw made it 47-44, and Hamilton’s last chance to tie came with the ball under the Basha basket with 5.7 seconds remaining. Hamilton got a decent look off the inbounds play but its shot missed, Basha corralled the rebound and managed to run the last few ticks off the clock to set off the celebration.
“We know that we can compete with these teams now,” senior forward Hayley Pryor said. “We don’t have to walk in scared to play a team. It’s really nice.”