MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. — No. 11 Central Valley (Spokane) showed it could play with any team in the country Saturday, knocking off No. 11 Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 66-61 in the girls championship of the GEICO High School Nationals.
Stanford-bound Central Valley (Spokane) forward Lexie Hull scored 26 points for the Bears, but got plenty of help in key moments from her teammates. Central Valley went 21 for 22 at the line.
Central Valley (29-0) took charge quickly as the Bears did a good job of spreading the ball around. Camryn Skaife added 14 points, including four three-pointers.
“When we wrapped up state, there was a lot of pressure taken off us,” Central Valley coach Freddie Rehkow said. “When we got the invite, I was worried what people would say if we didn’t perform well here, but the girls wanted to play. I think we had a chance to prove we are legit.”
“It’s a perfect finish for sure,” said Lacie Hull, Lexie’s twin, who had nine points. It’s the perfect ending. I couldn’t pick it myself.”
Hamilton Heights (26-3), which was the runner-up in last year’s tournament championship, was led by Tennessee signee Jazmine Massengill with 32 points, but the rest of the Hawks struggled offensively and the Hawks shot 36.7% as a team.
“We’ve come a long way as a team,” HHCA coach Keisha Hunt said. “I’m proud of the girls. Jazmine is a wonderful player. She can put the team on her back and she did that, but we just came up short. When you have talented players, you have to fall short sometimes to keep improving.”
“This year, we left it all on the floor,” Massengill said. “This year, I felt like it was supposed to be our year. The loss is just as painful but not as embarrassing.”
Central Valley led 36-26 at the half. In the third quarter, however, the Hawks turned on the defense, and cut the lead to 39-36 midway through the quarter on a layup by Esmery Martinez off a slick pass by Massengill. HHCA then cut the lead to 41-39 on two free throws by Martinez with 1:33 to go in the quarter. Massengill tied it moments later on an inside shot and on her next trip down the floor put the Hawks up 43-41 just before the end of the third quarter.
The Bears took the lead, back, however, early in the fourth quarter on a layup by Tomekia Whitman off a nice pass by Lexie Hull. From there, Central Valley went on a 9-2 run, punctuated by a three-pointer by Lacie Hull that put her team up 53-45 with four minutes to go.
The Hawks gave the Bears a scare. After Massengill hit two free throws, she picked up a loose ball and converted on the inbounds to cut the lead to 63-61. But as she did all game, Lexie Hull converted a three-point play after being fouled on a layup to ice the game with nine seconds left.
In the end, Central Valley’s chemistry made a big difference.
“We have been playing AAU since the seventh grade,” Skaife said. “We have been playing together for a long time. We have great chemistry. We are best friends pretty much.”
All of the players on the all-tournament team were playing in the final, including Lexie Hull and Skaife from Central Valley and Massengill, Elizabeth Balogun and Martinez from Hamilton Heights.
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter at: @jimhalley