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Highland upsets Wakefield in girls basketball with late offensive revival

Sunday, Jan. 25 | By Jeff Malmgren
The cliché “They couldn’t buy a basket” doesn’t do justice to the Highland Hawks’ shooting woes Saturday.

Not only did they have a low shooting percentage, they were also forced to short sell a basket to the officials, so to speak.

And yet the Hawks played well enough defensively that a few clutch baskets late in the game were enough to upset the Wakefield girls basketball team, 41-38, on the road in The Plains.

That final score should have been 43-38, but Erica Champion’s put-back layup with 5 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter never made it into the scorebook or onto the scoreboard, leaving Highland in a 16-14 deficit rather a tie. Officials huddled to discuss the score later in that period, but they made no change.

The point being: Highland had a brutally hard time making field goals most of the night (12-for-48 shooting; 25 percent), even when the ball actually passed through the net. But, finally, Linden Beasley, Kayla Soltys and Champion caught fire during an eight-minute stretch in the second half to help the Hawks build a lead as large as 36-29 late in the fourth quarter.

“Took it upon ourselves to try and win this game,” said Beasley, a freshman guard. “It’s a big rivalry, and I didn’t want to go home losing. So there was only one way out for me – that was winning.”

Beasley did not score during the first three quarters of the game, but she finished the fourth period with eight points. Similarly, Soltys scored nine of her 11 points in the second half and Champion scored six of her 12 after halftime (plus the unofficial basket).

Champion first tied the score, 18-18, on a put-back layup with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter, and then she assisted a basket by Destiny Ramcharan. Wakefield again tied the score, but Champion finally gave Highland the lead for good, 22-20, with a quick move in the post.

Then Soltys and Beasley provided consistent field goals and free throws to hold off Wakefield. Soltys, in fact, scored eight of the Hawks’ next nine points.

“I thought we had to play better and I knew I had to step up to do that,” said Soltys, who helped the Hawks shoot 43 percent in the second half after they made 11 percent of their field goals before halftime.

Beasley then made a runner with 4:29 remaining in the fourth quarter. On Wakefield’s next possession, she stole the ball and converted it into a layup for a 35-29 lead.

“That killed us,” Owls coach Paul Sipes said.

Beasley later made a dribble jumper and a pair of free throws to seal the victory. She began the night averaging about three points per game, and yet she scored eight points during the final five minutes Saturday.

“She broke out,” Hawks coach George Logan said. “We got contributions from everybody … and then Linden finished it up by hitting some big shots.”

After the game, many of the Hawks couldn’t help but feel the victory could be a turning point in their season. Highland, after all, entered the game without a win in Delaney Athletic Conference play and only three wins overall, while Wakefield entered ranked fifth in the latest VISAA Division III state poll.

“This is our biggest win,” said Soltys, who played point guard for the first time this season, shifting over from the No. 2 guard position. “They’re our biggest rival. There’s nothing like this. … It was really intense.”

Wakefield’s loss dropped its record to 14-5 overall and 3-4 in the DAC. Highland improved to 4-10 and 1-3.

“It’s been hard,” Beasley said of the Hawks’ season, “but I think we’re now starting to get the hang of … how to play with each other.”

“Hopefully it’s something we can build off of,” Logan said. “Hopefully we can get more of that from each player consistently.”

Highland has only one senior and one junior on its roster, though, so Logan understands some of the Hawks’ early-season struggles. In fact, he starts two eighth graders (Ramcharan and Soltys), a freshman (Beasley) and two sophomores (Champion and Hailey Place).

“We’re young and we’re going to have trouble with the consistency,” he said. “That’s hopefully what we’re starting to build on.”

“We’re building our program,” Beasley said, “so we’ll be great … in a few years.”

Following the game Saturday, Logan used the proverbial “team win” cliché that coaches love. It actually had some merit, though.

Soltys and Beasley, for example, produced clutch field goals in the second half, while Champion kept the Hawks in the game with 6-for-9 free throw shooting in the first half, and Ramcharan added eight intermittent points.

Ramcharan and Champion also helped the Hawks out-rebound Wakefield, 51-42, by grabbing 15 each. Champion had five offensive rebounds, Ramcharan had six offensive rebounds and five blocks, Beasley had four steals and Place had seven rebounds.

“Destiny played great defensively,” Logan said. “And Erica was really tough to guard. They really didn’t have an answer for her. We ran a lot in the third quarter through her.”

Sipes felt the Owls defended well against Highland until he had to sit a trio of players who got into foul trouble, and he disagreed with many of those called fouls. Defensive stalwart Airielle Jenkins, a senior guard, committed her third foul (two offensive) with more than six minutes remaining in the second quarter. Eight seconds later, post Sophia Olmstead committed her third foul.

Post Juliana Parra also picked up two fouls in the first quarter and Olmstead later added her fourth foul only three minutes into the third quarter.

“I was losing my mind like, ‘What are you doing?’” Sipes said. “At the beginning of the game I wasn’t concerned about [defense]. I thought we matched up well with their players.

“Then we couldn’t put our best [defenders] on anybody who was doing well” because of foul trouble, he said. “We played horrible team defense. … We basically played like middle school kids where we guard our man but we don’t worry about the ball.”

So Highland scored 14 points in the third quarter after tallying only 13 in the entire first half.

Neither team played well offensively before halftime, so they entered the break with Wakefield leading 15-13 only thanks to a late 3-pointer by Shelby Sipes.

“It was amped-up early on,” Logan said of a well-attended game in Wakefield’s small gym. “I told them, ‘There’s no pressure on us. Everybody expects us to lose, just relax and play. [The Owls are] the ones that’s going to get tense, not us.'”

Those Owls made only 5 of 30 field goal attempts in the first half (17 percent) and actually finished with a worse full-game shooting percentage (11-for-62, 18 percent) than Highland.

“At halftime I told the ladies, ‘Look, you just played a great defensive-half,'” Logan said. “'The only reason it’s a close game is because we missed the shots. Let’s concentrate on the fundamentals of shooting and we’ll be OK.'”

That worked out well, and the Hawks won despite a near-triple-double by Wakefield freshman guard Carly Shepard. She carried the Owls with 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine steals and two assists.

“She worked hard on defense and got loose balls,” Paul Sipes said. “She took good, open shots. … But she missed a bunch too. She could have had 20 points today.”

Sipes’ daughter, Shelby, also played well for Wakefield. She scored an efficient nine points with a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter that kept the Owls in the game. She also had five rebounds and two steals while Jenkins had 11 points. Adding six rebounds each were Elizabeth Miller and Jillian Wise.

Champion, meanwhile, would have finished Saturday with a game-high 14 points for Highland had one of her field goals not gone unrecorded.

Not than any of the Hawks noticed the mistake.

“I wasn’t really paying attention,” Soltys said. “I was just playing.”

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