Hamilton ends Niles season in regional semifinals

HOPKINS — The final chapter of a storybook season was written Tuesday night for coach Jessica Johnson’s youth-laden Niles girls basketball team.

Hamilton made effective and efficient use of a decided height advantage and stifling defensive pressure to pin a 52-37 setback on the Lady Vikings in a Class B regional semifinal contest.

Featuring seven players who stand at least 5-foot-9, Hamilton controlled the paint area at both ends of the court from the outset and established control of the contest mere seconds after the opening tip.

Hamilton jumped out to a 12-2 lead just less than two minutes into the contest, and forced Niles into 10 of its 27 turnovers during the opening quarter.

“It was very difficult to compete with their size,” Johnson said. “When we got into the trap and we picked the ball up, passing it out was just almost undoable at one point.

“I thought the girls, once they adjusted, started playing a lot better, but it took a while to make that adjustment.”

“Getting the tip for that layup right off the bat really got us into our defense quickly and that little bolt of energy set the tone,” Hamilton coach Dan VanHekken said. “That was really important.”

Niles missed its first five floor shots to open the second quarter and Hamilton extended its lead to 33-12 by halftime.

“I thought the first half, defensively, we did a good job of getting a lot of hands on basketballs; deflections and that really got our offense going with some quicker buckets,” VanHekken added. “We wanted to play fast, but under control.”

The Hawkeyes scored the first seven points of the third quarter and held Niles without a floor shot for nearly three minutes to open the frame.

Enter Lajan Mitchell.

The Niles senior came off the bench and scored six of her 11 points to ignite a 12-4 run by the Lady Vikings, slicing the Hamilton lead to, 44-24.

“All of our post players got into foul trouble early on,” Johnson said. “In the third quarter we were able to get Lajan Mitchell back into the game, and she had some great plays and great steals for us and it actually sparked some energy for our team.

“Once that energy sparked, the girls fed off of that. It was just getting that spark going that took some time. We didn’t have that in the first half, but she was able to provide it for us in the third quarter.”

It was too little, too late, but it did go a long way toward helping Niles outscore Hamilton during the final two quarters by a 25-19 margin.

Sophomore Alycia Patterson also scored 11 points for the Lady Vikings, who shot 40 percent from the field (16 of 40) and were outrebounded, 37-22.

Johnson put the season in perspective following the contest.

“Their goal was to win districts this year and I don’t think too many people believed they would be here,” she said.

“I don’t think the girls really thought beyond districts, so being able to come to regionals and gain that experience, see what the competition was like, I think will be really good for the girls, overall.”

Hamilton got 13 points and seven rebounds from 6-foot senior Ashlen Wolfram, while 6-2 freshman A.J. Ediger finished with 12 points and five rebounds. The Hawkeyes also got nine points from 5-10 junior Bria Schrotenboer and eight points from 5-9 sophomore Sally Merrill.

The Hawkeyes shot 39.2 percent from the field (20 of 51) and scored 27 points following turnovers by Niles.

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