Hawkeyes fall to Jackson Northwest in first quarterfinal appearance
All things, no matter how good, must eventually come to an end.
For Hamilton girls’ basketball coach Dan VanHekken and his players, that end came in a Class B state quarterfinal game against Jackson Norwest on Tuesday, March 13.
Unable to get in an offensive groove throughout the contest, the Hawkeyes fell by a final score of 42-35 to see the most successful season in program history come to a close.
“It hurt,” VanHekken said. “Losing your last game always hurts. But this was a great season. A historic season. Nothing can ever change that, including this loss. It will probably take me a few days to decompress, but when I do I’ll really be able to put this season into context.”
Here’s some context: the Hawkeyes set a school record for wins as they finished the season 24-2—with all of those victories coming in a row—and claimed the first regional championship in school history.
“These girls loved playing together,” VanHekken said. “They had a great chemistry and it showed in the way they played the game.”
That chemistry was also there off the court.
“Last night, we got together for a team dinner and our superintendent was there,” VanHekken said. “He asked the girls what they’d remember most from this season, and not one of them mentioned something that happened on the court. It was all about spending time together and doing different team-building exercises.
“As a coach, that’s great to hear.”
VanHekken knew his team, which finished the regular season ranked fourth in the state, would have its hands full with the third-ranked Mounties.
“That’s a great team,” VanHekken said. “Like us, they’re very good defensively.”
Jackson Northwest demonstrated that defensive prowess by holding Hamilton to single digits in three of the four quarters.
The only quarter in which Hamilton managed to score more than 10 points was the third, when the Hawkeyes went for 13 points.
Perhaps not coincidently, that’s also the quarter in which Hamilton held its only leads of the game.
Down 11-9 after one quarter and 19-15 at halftime, the Hawkeyes went ahead for the first time on the second of two free throws from Bria Schrotenboer with 1:26 left in the third stanza.
Jackson answered with a basket by Jozie Bontrager on its next possession only for Hamilton to retake the lead at 28-27 thanks to a bucket from Sarah Buresh with 26 seconds left in the frame.
But a 3-pointer in the closing seconds from Jackson’s Sydney Shafer put the Mounties back up to stay.
“We just weren’t able to hit the big shot,” VanHekken said. “Even when we took those leads, we couldn’t put any distance between us.”
Jackson did a particularly solid defensive job on senior forward Ashlen Wolfram, holding her scoreless.
“Ashlen has been a big part of our success, and they really key on her,” VanHekken said. “They really keyed on all our post players.”
Buresh paced Hamilton with 13 points, followed by 11 from Schrotenboer.
“That was one heck of a team, as good or better than any team we’ve played all year,” Northwest coach Ryan Carroll said. “For us to step up and execute our game plan defensively and to have the guts on the offensive end to find a way, it’s unbelievable.”
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