By RJ WALTERS / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Jan. 22 edition of the Hillsdale Daily News
The Dial-A-Ride trophy has shuttled back to Hillsdale High School.
A back-and-forth classic that neither team would’ve won based on style points came down to the final two minutes, where Jackie Anderson scored five clutch points to help the Hornets bounce the host Colts 53-47.
The Hornets now hold a 2-1 lead in the Dial A Ride cross-town series that began in 2006.
Connaught Blood was far and away the best player on the court Wednesday, scoring a school-record 32 points for the Colts, but inexperience and an untimely injury proved to be too much for the Colts to overcome.
Hornets head coach Nick Langston was all smiles after the victory, but was honest with his team in assessing a win in which the Hornets missed plenty of open looks and had more than a few careless turnovers.
“It was ugly and sometimes during a season you’ve got to win some ugly games,” he said. “We just had an awful week of practice, I didn’t feel good coming into this game, I knew they would be prepared for us and would be looking at us and if we’re going to win games from here on out we’ve got to play better than that.”
The Hornets (4-5) had a noticeable size and strength advantage inside and that, coupled with a broken toe suffered by starting forward Laura Wonders in Tuesday’s practice meant an uphill battle for the Colts (7-2).
The battle was still one they felt they could win though and based on the fact the score was 20-all at the half and the Colts actually led 43-42 with 3:40 left, they had every right to feel that way.
“They play so much more physical because they are physical and their league does play that way,” Academy coach Jeff Hubbard said. “And with Laura out all of a sudden we had to scramble and she’s our in-bounder and knows all our plays and calls them, so that was far from easy.”
Instead of the experienced Wonders, Hubbard had to start freshman Emily Pewe, who responded with 11 rebounds but had to adjust to the big-game atmosphere.
Anderson was one Hornet who seemed to be able to use her size to get plenty of easy looks throughout the contest, but until late in the second half she failed to capitalize on many of those opportunities.
She finished the game with a team-high 14 points, but had only two rebounds and Langston was shaking his head at her shot selection at times.
“Jackie has got to figure out a good shot from a bad one, she just does, because it hurts us and I’ve got to take her out of the game, and it hurts when she’s out,” he said. “She’s still our go-to person so I can’t take her out when the game is tight, but it’s all little steps, one at a time and we’re happy with the win.”
Without junior teammate Stefanie Skiendziel (11 points) stepping up to nail two clutch triples late in the second half though, Anderson may not have had the opportunity to convert key baskets in crunch time.
“My juniors are who I look to and these girls spent a lot of time this summer playing ball. Stefanie knew she had to make those shots and she stepped up and made them, thank goodness,” Langston said.
Junior guard Lauren Shaffer also put in 11 points for Hillsdale, but it was her job to try and contain the ultra-competitive Blood and she was taught a lesson or two Wednesday.
“(Julie) has to learn she can’t help out when she’s covering her because if she goes to help Blood will knock down that three every time,” Langston said.
Hubbard said it was treat to watch Blood and he knew she was going to take the loss hard after putting her whole heart into it.
“Connaught was just awesome out there tonight and I think at times some of our girls got in the mode of just giving her the ball and watching because it’s easy to do,” he said.
Hubbard’s message to his team after the loss was that sometimes adversity plants a seed that helps grow success down the road and he made sure to put it all in perspective.
“If one or two of Connaught’s threes that rimmed out just by the slimmest of margins goes in or we do a few more things right then we probably win,” he said. “Give plenty of credit to Langston because he truly has turned things around, but remember, we’re still the small, little Class D school and Hillsdale is Class B with a bunch of six-footers and tall, athletic girls. We can’t forget that.”
Heather Lantis was quieter than usual for the Colts, scoring eight points, and Hubbard attributed that to the excitement and intensity that surrounded the game.
“I know tonight was a lot for Heather given how her brother (Scott) goes to (Hillsdale High School) and all of the people she knows from both schools. She got a little too excited right away and we all know she has had better games.”
Hillsdale guard Tiki Malone was all over the court Wednesday, tallying seven points, even steals and four assists.