MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. — Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) has a starting lineup that scares opponents. Beginning with 6-7 center Kamilla Cardoso, every Hawks starter is 6-foot or taller. The team also has a strong international flavor, with players from five different countries.
Esmery Martinez, a 6-1 forward from the Dominican Republic, led the No. 10-ranked Hawks with 17 points and 18 rebounds in a 62-49 win defeat of No. 15 Winter Haven, Fla., Friday in a girls semifinal at the GEICO High School Nationals.
The Blue Devils (25-2), their 8A state champion, made Hamilton Heights (32-2) work for it, cutting the lead to six points twice late in the game, but Hawks senior guard Jazmine Massengill, a Tennessee signee, steadied the team down the stretch, scoring seven of her 13 points in the final three minutes.
“I expect a lot out of our seniors,” HHCA coach Keisha Hunt said. “I tell them, this is your season and don’t be afraid to be selfish. If Jazmine has a fault, she’s completely unselfish, but she has a good basketball I.Q.”
Martinez, who played for the Dominican Republic’s junior national team, didn’t join HHCA until December and speaks little English.
“She’s working on her English, but basketball is basketball,” Hunt said.
Winter Haven coach Johnnie Lawson said his team took a while to get into its defense.
“At first, we would score and not get into our defense right away,” Lawson said. “After a while, we understood and we finally got situated into our press.”
Zakiyah Franklin led Winter Haven with 16 points while Melijah Sullivan had 15.
“We were playing with house money, coming to a tournament like this,” Lawson said. “This is the first time I could say in 20 years, that just coming to this event, putting our town on the map, is a win-win. Don’t get me wrong, when I get home, I’m going to cry a little.”
Franklin said the Blue Devils had to adjust to Hamilton Heights’ superior length.
“I was hesitant at first going to the basket because of their length,” she said. “We just had to quit being hesitant.”
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