By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on Feb. 13, 2009
The championship charge is now in full force in Waldron, while Hillsdale Academy faces an uphill battle in their quest for an SCAA East title.
The Spartans (14-1 overall, 9-0 SCAA) took a big step toward its first league championship in girl’s hoops since 1974, as they hung on for a 40-39 home victory over a young, battered Colts (10-5, 8-1) team who has now lost three straight games.
It was an ugly contest at times, with 55 turnovers in all, but both team’s desire to win and competitive fire burned deep for 32 minutes, leaving both coaches exhausted, but one a bit more excited than the other.
“I have pointed over at the banner on the wall a few times this season because this group knows we can do some special things and tonight was a good win for us,” Waldron head coach Jeff Knowlan said. “We’ve been working all week on things and had a great week of practice and I knew they’d be ready to play tonight and they played really well.”
Offensively Ashley Jagielski put in a game-high 13 points for the Spartans, but it was forward Courtney Whitehead who used her strength to score 11, which was the biggest surprise, and defensively the mission was to slow down Colts’ star Connaught Blood and they nearly stopped her altogether.
In the first half it was Jagielski, who finished with eight boards, six steals and four assists, coming up with timely steals and driving the ball to the basket that kept the Spartans ahead and in the second half it was Whitehead’s time. She came up with several clutch offensive rebounds and hit several off-balance shots inside to keep the Colts at bay.
Both coaches were equally impressed.
“Courtney played great. I’ve been stressing things to her and harping on her all year about how physical she can be inside and she really played well tonight and I was happy with her,” Knowlan said.
Hubbard said he expected good outings from the likes of Jagielski and Wines, but was surprised with Whitehead’s performance.
“Hats off to Waldron. I thought Courtney Whitehead had a tremendous ballgame tonight and that was one thing that we just hadn’t counted on from her or seen from her,” he said. “She made some great moves that even left me shaking my head asking where that came from.”
Meanwhile Jagielski, Mackenzie Price and Kelsey Knowlan, among others, continually trapped Blood, forcing her to give up the ball and work extremely hard for open looks.
It didn’t help that she picked up two fouls within the first nine minutes of the contest and despite several nice drives toward the basket in the second half she was held to just seven points.
“I think Connaught…we’re getting into those crunch games and I think she’s putting too much pressure on herself lately and that hurt us,” Hubbard said. “But what’s good is the younger kids, when Connaught gets in foul trouble, have kept us in the games when she’s not on the court.”
Youngsters like sophomore Shena Albaugh who scored nine points and freshmen Meg Ryan and Emily Pewe who put in six and five points respectively.
It was forward Heather Lantis, who looked at far less than 100 percent who was most impressive for the Academy, scoring nine points and pulling down 22 rebounds.
“It’s not an excuse, but we’re a banged up squad…you don’t know how many injuries and how sick Heather Lantis was…she was just amazing, because she probably shouldn’t even have been on the court tonight,” Hubbard said. “We’ve had so many big games in a row for a young team and it’s started to take its toll. But I am proud of the way we came back.”
The Colts fought back from a 7-point deficit in the final quarter and made a 38-32 margin 40-39 on a Lantis putback off a missed free-throw with 11.4 seconds left.
Following a Waldron timeout, the Colts put on their full-court press, but couldn’t come up with a steal and failed on at least three occasions to foul a Spartan player and time expired with Knowlan exhaling.
“I told the girls this is something you can learn from. When you’re up by 10 points with however much time left we had that’s when you have to take care of the basketball, get fouls and go make free throws,” he said. “If we learned from this maybe we won’t have one-point games like tonight.”
The Colts will have a chance to avenge this loss in just nine days when the two teams butt heads on their home court. A win could mean a possible tie atop the division, while a loss would more than likely pave the way for a league crown for the Spartans.