By Eric Shannon
Hilldale freshman Kenzie Mize flexed her muscles with less than two minutes left in the game after she stole a cross court pass, hit a running 3-pointer then calmly sank a pair of free throws 40-seconds later to seal the Lady Hornets victory 47-36 Friday night over the Wagoner Lady Bulldogs to open the season
Mize scored seven of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. Mize also pulled down 10 rebounds, seven in the final stanza.
“She’s a good kid and she is going to be a great player for us,” said Lady Hornets coach Scott Hensley. “She really gave us a spark there late after we had hit a valley.”
The Lady Hornets started out on a torrid pace when Hillary Calvert popped a 15-foot jumper to open the game, then bombed in a 3-pointer midway through the opening period for a 18-10 advantage over the Lady Bulldogs.
Then the shooting well went dry for both teams as they combined for only 12 second-quarter points with the highlight being 10 forced turnovers for the Lady Hornets.
“We had some peaks and valleys tonight,” said Hensley. “We did a nice job of forcing turnovers but we couldn’t capitalize on them. I think we rushed to much and didn’t get in any rhythm.”
Rhythm wasn’t the name of the game for the next 12 minutes until Mize went to work late in the fourth quarter.
Both teams showed rust in their first game of the season and shot a combined 18 percent from the field for the game with the freshman being the bright spot in the second half.
The Lady Bulldogs did put together a run in the fourth quarter behind Kellie Smith’s five fourth-quarter points and pulled within 39-36 with 2:33 left in the final stanza until Mize stepped up.
“It’s always nice to get that first win and start out the season positive,” said Hensley.
Calvert chipped in 10 points and Emily Dowdy added six points for the Lady Hornets on the night.
Hilldale 56, Wagoner 52
Hilldale’s Chandler Puckett only scored six points for the Hornets, but his four points in the last three minutes of the game gave the Hornets the edge they needed as they held off the Wagoner Bulldogs for both teams’ opening game Friday night at the Hilldale Event Center.
“You can tell this was our first game and that we were a bit rusty out there,” said Hornets coach Jeremy Rogers. “It’s sweet to show the heart we did and get that first win.”
Kendall Cook did all he could for the Bulldogs, leading the visitors on a furious comeback effort with eight of his game-high 19 points in the final period and overtook the home team 51-49 with 4:02 left to play. Cook also had 10 rebounds on the night.
Just after Cook gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the night, Puckett went to work for the Hornets.
Both teams got off to a slow start, combining for just nine points with five minutes gone. Then the Hornets’ Hunter Howe went to work, pumping in 14 of the teams 19 points and a 19-14 first quarter lead.
The Hornets’ defense did its part by forcing 15 first-half turnovers but both offenses went cold for nearly six minutes. The Hornets did close out the first half on a 6-0 run and a 31-24 halftime advantage.
“We did a good job forcing turnovers but we didn’t capitalize on them very well, we have to do that better,” said Rogers. “Some of our guys are still learning the system and have just come from football so we’re a bit behind there.”
Building their biggest lead of the night, Derek Holmes added a pair and give the Hornets a 35-24 lead with 6:53 to go in the third quarter.
Cook and company slowly chipped away at the Hornets lead, then made their move with a 11-2 run to end the third quarter and open the fourth pulling even at 49-49. Cook nailed a floater with 3:19 left in the game for the lead, as short lived as it was.
“We are a small team and they had a lot of height advantage on us but we just have to work at getting position and have to do a better job of beating them down low,” said Rogers.
Even though the Hornets owned the turnover margin 23-8, the Bulldogs held the rebounding advantage 44-20 on the night.
Ya’Aquook King added 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs as Bill Muse contributed 12 points on the night for the Hornets.