Luckily for the Hamilton girls basketball team, the state tournament isn’t about style points.
The Huskies didn’t make a field goal in the last 6:23 on Thursday and watched a 16-point lead dissolve to nothing, but four key free throws down the stretch were enough for a 52-50 victory over Mountain View in the Division I semifinals at Jobing.com Arena.
No. 12 seed Hamilton will face off with St. Mary’s for the state championship on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena.
Staving off the Mountain View comeback and now having to play the Knights, arguably the best team in the country, is par for the course for Hamilton, according to forward Cassidee Ranger.
"We’ve always had it hard, and people have doubted us," she said. "This has been our goal for four years, and we’re finally there. This is our time."
Hamilton looked to be cruising into the finals after Ranger hit five first-half 3-pointers and the Huskies took a 20-point lead into halftime. The Toros still trailed 48-32 with under six minutes remaining, but nine points by Jordan Jensen sparked a furious comeback, and her lay-up with 1:55 remaining tied the game at 48.
Mountain View’s Sabrina Haines stole the ball with under a minute remaining, but she missed a breakaway lay-up and no foul was called on the play.
Hamilton’s Aliyah Dickson was fouled in the subsequent scrum for the rebound and hit a pair of free throws to give the Huskies a 50-48 lead with 48.7 seconds remaining.
Mountain View had three shots on its subsequent possession, but came up empty. Rene Coggins missed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left, Haines missed one with 16 seconds remaining and Armani Hawkins missed a game-tying jumper with 10 seconds left.
Lauren Evans hit two free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
"I think every emotion was going through those last four minutes," Hamilton coach Jeff Kain said. "Excitement. Frustration. It was everything right there."
Mountain View coach Henry Bribiescas was disappointed with his team’s slow start but happy with the way it fought to get back in it late.
"If we would have played (the entire time) like we did the last eight minutes, it would have been a whole different game," he said.
Mountain View was led in scoring by Jensen, who had 15 points. Arnecia Hawkins added 10.
Ranger and Aliyah Dickson had 15 points apiece for the Huskies, who have beaten Centennial, Red Mountain and now Mountain View to make the championship game, the first in the school’s history.
"This is the year," Ranger said.