WEST UNITY — The Hilltop girls basketball team followed big scoring nights from sophomores Alex Horton and Leanna Baker, plus a few key contributions off the bench, to win a 65-62 nailbiter over visiting Tinora on Monday night for the Cadets’ first win of the season.
Tinora (0-4) got off to a quick start, scoring the first six points of the contest on a pair of 3-pointers. A couple of free throws from Amanda Meyer put the Rams up 8-2 midway through the opening frame. Hilltop (1-3, 0-2 Buckeye Border Conference) responded with a 9-3 run, but a buzzer-beating triple from Tinora’s Tristen Norden gave the Rams a 14-11 lead heading into the second quarter.
Tinora came out firing in that second quarter. Liv Mueller, Aaliyah Hurtt and Norden combined to make their first four 3-point attempts of the quarter, as the Rams went on a 12-0 run to extend their lead to 26-11.
The Cadets stayed alive during the Rams’ run and finished the first half on an 18-6 run, aided by nine points from Horton and six from Leanna Baker, and Tinora went into the break with a slim 32-29 lead.
After Tinora’s hot shooting streak ended and his team was only down by three points heading into halftime, Hilltop coach Troy Grime told his team they were in a good position and to stay the course.
“(Tinora) came out and shot the ball extremely well from the 3-point line,” Grime said. “We just told them to keep hanging in there. At halftime, I told them, ‘We took their punch. Keep playing Hilltop basketball. Keep getting after it like we’re capable of doing.’ They drained everything. We weren’t getting out on them. But our girls never gave up. We talk about being resilient and relentless, and that’s what we were.”
Grime’s words held true; a Sara Barnum free throw with 3:20 left in the third quarter tied the game at 38. Kodi Brenner made a 3-pointer from the right wing, along with two free throws with less than a minute left in the frame, and the Cadets took a 45-42 lead into the fourth quarter.
The two teams traded baskets and stayed within five points of each other throughout the fourth quarter, and a pair of free throws from Tinora’s Mueller gave the Rams a 59-58 lead with just over two minutes to play. Leanna Baker made her presence felt over the next minute, going on a personal 5-0 run to give the Cadets a 63-59 lead.
Holly Jermeay made a pair of free throws, and Tinora’s Tristen Norden made a straightaway 3-pointer to keep the Rams’ hopes alive, but Hilltop got the ball in and ran out the clock for a dramatic three-point victory.
Bench play was a huge part of the Cadets’ win. Senior Morgan Norden got into early foul trouble for the Cadets and didn’t play much of the third and fourth quarters, not registering a point for the minutes she did play. Grime credited Lana Baker (six points) and Barnum (six points) for keeping Hilltop in the game.
“Our bench play is great this year,” Grime said. “Sara Barnum, who was a starter last year, she’s been instrumental in getting us going. I think she’s found her spot. Lana Baker came in, and Americus Maddox played well the minutes they were in. It’s all 14 girls in the program. It’s a team win, all 14 girls.”
Grime said he was impressed with the composure and decision-making his team exhibited down the stretch. Hilltop won one game last year, its first game of the season, and hadn’t been in many high-pressure situations like the one they faced Monday night.
Grime said he stressed execution and focus in the final minutes.
“It certainly got crazy at the end,” Grime said. “But we just told them to stay under control, stay settled. Just take care of the ball.
“We have a tendency sometimes to throw the ball away when things get a little tight. They’ve grown up. Last year, that would’ve been a game we would’ve gotten beat by 20, to be honest. But they kept their composure.”
Hilltop returns to action when it hosts Pettisville for a BBC contest on Friday night.
Hilltop 65, Tinora 62
Tinora 14 18 10 20 — 62
Hilltop 11 18 16 20 — 65
Tinora: Meyer 3 1 4-6 13, Hurtt 1 3 1-2 12, Norden 1 3 0-1 11, Mueller 0 3 2-5 11, Okuley 0 2 3-3 11, Zachrich 1 0 0-0 2, Frazer 0 0 2-6 2. Totals: 6 13 11-22 62.
Hilltop: Horton 3 2 6-12 18, Le. Baker 6 0 4-6 16, Brenner 1 2 3-5 11, La. Baker 2 0 2-2 6, Barnum 2 0 2-4 6, Maddox 1 1 0-0 5, Jermeay 0 0 3-4 3. Totals: 15 5 20-32 65.