Hagerstown hasn’t had to look far for a theme this season.
That’s been a critical component for Hagerstown’s girls basketball program, and one the Tigers aim to showcase in Saturday’s Class 2A regional at Speedway.
They’re in a field packed with talent, and that definitely includes the Tigers. Class 2A’s No. 1, 3 and 7 teams are among the field, as is a 21-win Hagerstown squad that recently won its first sectional crown since 2009.
The Tigers will take on seventh-ranked Covenant Christian at 10 a.m. in the first semifinal. The winner moves on to face either top-ranked Heritage Christian (24-2) or No. 3 Triton Central (23-1) in the 7:30 p.m. final.
“The word team typifies this group,” said Hagerstown coach Chris Oliger, in his 13th season. “You don’t know from night to night which player is going to step up. They always do it for each other. It’s something these girls have always prided themselves on. It’s a good situation to have.
“They are truly a team who have had each other’s backs and will always be there for each other.”
The Tigers were there to grind through back-to-back-to-back sectional games against Tri-Eastern Conference opponents.
A different player led Hagerstown in scoring each night, which has not been uncommon this season.
First it was Gabby Willis, netting a game-high 22 points in a 50-34 win over Northeastern.
Then it was Brytni Dale with 11 as Hagerstown held off a Centerville rally to stop the Bulldogs 34-28.
Finally, it was Kaley Caudill’s turn. She scored 14 in the final to lead the Tigers past Union County 32-24 in a battle of two the TEC’s three champions this season.
“This was our goal coming in, was to win the sectional,” said Hagerstown senior Tawni Brown. “We said from the very first practice of the year, over the summer, that we wanted to be playing our best ball come sectional time, and that’s exactly what we did.”
What the Tigers have done all season is win at a consistent clip.
They are 21-4, with their last loss coming Jan. 27 at Union City in a game that gave the Indians a share of the TEC.
Before that, it was a 53-50 defeat at Union on Jan. 2. The Rockets are another team playing in a regional this Saturday.
Hagerstown also fell to Class 4A New Castle and to No. 9 Shenandoah, which faces Wabash in the Class 2A Lapel regional.
“Our girls are excited. How can you not be? You have a chance to move on in the regional,” Oliger said.
Covenant Christian is the first hurdle.
The Warriors are 19-6 and defeated South Putnam 60-28 to win Sectional 44.
Rachel McLimore leads the team with 18.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, but is the only Warrior averaging double figures. Kaitlyn Luikart adds 8.6 points and Sarah McLimore 7 a game.
“It’s going to be hard, real tough,” Caudill said, noting a key will be “the best defense we can have and let the offense work on its own.”
Willis leads the Tiger offense with 13.2 points, followed by Caudill’s 8.6 and Savannah Houck’s 7.6.
Dale and Houck lead the rebounding effort with around 6 per game each. Other contributors include Brown, Marissa Matanich, Vivian Pierson, Hannah Rogers, Olivia Houck and Julie Robinson.
Matanich, Pierson, Caudill, Olivia Houck, Brown and Robinson are seniors.
Oliger is giving his team the green light to shoot the ball.
“Feel free if you’re open. Knock the shot down,” Oliger said he told the Tigers. “It’s OK to shoot the ball.
“Offensively we were a lot better this year because you really didn’t know who was going to do the scoring and who you had to stop. I think we’ve scored more points this year than we have in a while. We ended up averaging 47, which is big for us.”
Also big is the Tigers’ typically tight defense.
They rank No. 12 in the state in defensive average, surrendering just 34.28 points per game. That’s the lowest of the four teams in the Speedway Regional, and third lowest in all of Class 2A.
Oliger learned the importance of defense from his high school coach, Howard Renner. It’s a trait his Hagerstown teams have carried on.
“That’s what he preached to me. I think that’s what you build a program around,” Oliger said. “I think it always gives you a chance to win. If you defend every night, night in and night out, you are still there with a chance to win.”
Hagerstown limited its sectional opponents to an average of 28.7 points to win a fifth overall championship.
The Tigers have been close to more titles, too. They dropped a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Shenandoah in 2008, and fell in finals in 2011 and 2012 to Wayne County foes Northeastern and Centerville.
The 2012 loss came in Cambridge City, on the same floor Hagerstown halted Union County on Saturday.
“This is a huge step for our program,” Brown said. “For our program to pull around this far, and all stick together as a team and a family, it’s a great step and a great feeling.”
“Those near misses — this one is special,” Oliger said. “This is something that each year, regardless of who we have, that’s our goal. We want to make it back to the regional round and hopefully get to the championship.
“They (Covenant Christian) are a formidable opponent. You look forward to the challenge. My girls will be ready, I can promise you that. They can’t wait.”
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
At a Glance
• What: Class 2A Speedway girls basketball regional
• Game 1: Hagerstown (21-4) vs. Covenant Christian (19-6), 10 a.m.
• Game 2: Triton Central (23-1) vs. Heritage Christian (24-2), 11:30
• Game 3: Championship, 7:30 p.m.
• Cost: $7 per session or $10 for both sessions
• Next: Winner advances to semistate Feb. 28 at either Richmond or Jeffersonville