By Pedro Velazco
RUSSIAVILLE — Playing against Hamilton Heights’ girls basketball team is as tense as walking a razor’s edge. At any moment, the Huskies can get on a run, fueled by the defense of lightning quick guard Dakota Weatherford.
Western got off to a great start against Heights on Tuesday, building an 18-11 lead through one quarter and holding a 30-28 advantage at the half. But that knife edge eventually proved deadly as Heights posted a 62-52 victory.
The Class 3A No. 4 Huskies improved to 12-1 on the season and 5-0 in the Mid-Indiana Conference. HH ran its MIC win streak to 26 games. Western fell to 12-3, 4-1 in the MIC.
Heights played well on offense and defense, but so did Western. Weatherford was the difference. The 5-foot-5 guard snagged nine steals, nine rebounds and scored a game-high 24 points. Four of her 10 buckets came directly off her steals.
“She is so fast and it’s something you talk about before the game [when] you look at video,” Western coach Chris Keisling explained. “We had three good guards, but she’s so quick and her timing is so good on that spin-dribble turn to get that pick for a steal. She lives on that. She’s just an excellent player.”
Heights sets up opponents by allowing Weatherford to play essentially a free role defensively. Other Huskies will try and coax opposing ballhandlers into turning into open space to get free of their defender, and that’s when Weatherford will knife in — from anywhere on the floor — to swipe at the ball from the blind side.
She scored two buckets that way in the third quarter to help fuel a 16-5 run that put Heights up 44-37 late in the third quarter. Western trimmed the lead to two points, 44-42 on a second-chance hoop from Jessica Givens after an offensive rebound from Raven Black, but the Panthers got no closer. Heights led by five points or more throughout the fourth quarter.
Western finished with 24 turnovers. Heights had 17.
Givens led Western with 18 points and canned four triples in the opening half. She hit two treys as Western opened an 8-0 lead to start the game and hit a trey with a few seconds left in the opening quarter for Western to take a seven-point lead into the first stop.
“We took a left hook and a right cross in the first couple minutes of the game and persevered,” Heights coach Tod Windlan said, talking about how his squad turned the game its way. “We found [Givens]. We didn’t want her to be spotting up on the 3-point line shooting. We had a little heart to heart at halftime on that.
“I thought our physical conditioning really wore them down. I thought their legs went a little bit in the second half and we were able to exploit some things we were wanting to exploit on them.”
The Huskies start four guards and a forward, but gained ground on Western with the introduction of a couple post players off the bench. Morgan Burton had seven rebounds and four points off the bench, and Maranda Pennington added seven points and five rebounds.
Western got a dozen points and nine rebounds out of Black, whose spirited effort inside gave Western its best glimmers of hope down the stretch. Carley O’Neal added nine points and Caitlyn O’Neal eight.
“Jessica Givens had an outstanding game, shot the ball well, took it to the bucket, did all the things that I like to see her do,” Keisling said.
“In terms of effort and overall performance, the kids, I couldn’t be prouder of their performance. They battled all the way to the end.”