, Muskogee, OK

March 4, 2014

It’s the heart of the matter: Competitive drive fuels Lady Hornets’ postseason run

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— For Hilldale girls basketball, it’s been a long time coming and a lot of single-digit win seasons of suffering.

For the first time since 1998 the Lady Hornets find themselves in the area tournament. That’s three games away from a state tournament appearance they’ve never had.

Scott Hensley’s tempted to dwell on those big dreams, but would rather just focus on the moment in this, his third season since leaving the boys program at Quinton.

“That’s three games to get there. I’d love to think about it but gosh dang it, I can’t let myself do it. We’ve got a lot of work ahead,” he said.

Work they have, and it has paid rare dividends in a 17-7 season and a No. 15 ranking that continues this week in the Class 4A Area IV area consolations with a quarterfinal game against No. 14 Victory Christian (17-7) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilburton.

Most recently was the example of Hilldale’s 64-60 win against Sallisaw. Hillary Calvert's pair of free throws with 3:17 on the clock was the first of 11 unanswered points which cut Sallisaw’s lead  to four, 32-28, heading into the locker room.

The Lady Hornets opened the third quarter with a 13-5 run to gain a 41-37 lead at the four-minute mark in the third. The lead was short-lived as Sallisaw went on a 14-4 run to go up 51-45 to end the third.

Kenzie Mize's 3 to start the fourth, followed by strong shooting from Katie Kirkhart and Calvert, gave the Hornets the momentum they needed as they rallied to regain the lead and held it by hitting their free throws, converting 10 attempts in the final period.

In the game before, Hilldale led Muldrow 41-23 before the Lady Bulldogs went on a 10-2 run to make it a 10-point game,  The Hornets found the basket a couple times before the end of the third to go up 14 as the buzzer sounded, only to see the Bulldogs get a couple quick baskets to get it back to 10.

Hilldale held it together and won going away, 71-49.

“I see a lot of these elimination games where someone will get two or three key baskets in a row, and it’s like a punch in the gut and you’ll see that look in girls faces,” Hensley said “Well, we had opportunities on Saturday where Sallisaw was putting down some heavy blows and we could have dropped our heads and said ‘it’s been a good run, we’re done.’ But no one on that floor quit.”

It’s part of a mentality change, if anything else. This group was 17-9 a year ago, exiting in the regional semifinals. The core of the team that has just one senior has won on the court through middle school and most were on the state fastpitch champion in Class 4A this past fall. Behind them, the freshman teams have been unbeaten the past two years.

Kirkhart, last year’s All-Phoenix Newcomer of the Year, leads the team in scoring at 12 points per game with two others — Mize and Calvert — in double figures at 10. Just off that mark is Mills with 8.

“Our work ethic was really good in softball and it’s carried over to here,” said Calvert, a junior guard. “One of our goals was making it to area but we had goals of working hard and dedicating ourselves 100 percent every day, whether practice or in a game. We’re all really competitive-natured anyway so it rubs off.

“Hilldale hasn’t had success in girls basketball, but we as a group have been successful in everything and it’s starting to pay off.”

Mills, another junior guard, said the drive of not wanting to fail at the goal of making area was constant last week. Now that they’ve accomplished that goal, the reality has hit them.

“A couple of us were talking today at practice about it,” she said. “Why can’t we take it all the way to state?”