By Nick Hampton
Senior Night was a night that typified Hilldale’s bright season on the girls side.
The Lady Hornets spotted Keys the first five points before posting 14 unanswered points and went on to a 60-34 victory on Senior Night at the Hilldale Event Center.
Part of that turnaround came from the defensive side. Hilldale held the Lady Cougars to just eight more points in the first half after their initial outburst. Keys had more turnovers (15) than shots (13) in the half to trail at intermission 40-13.
“Our defense had a lot to do with our victory tonight,” said Hilldale coach Scott Hensley. “They communicated with each other well, moving while the ball’s in the air and we’re getting better all the time.”
Keys got a little breather in the third quarter as they stepped up their defensive effort, forcing the Lady Hornets to commit eight turnovers in the quarter and limiting them to just one field goal. At one point, the Lady Cougars had knocked the deficit to 20 points at 42-22.
But Hilldale, enjoying their best season in over a decade at 15-7, went 8-of-11 from the free throw line in the quarter, outscored Keys eight to three over the last 3 1/2 minutes of the quarter to lead 50-25.
Madison Kaulay, one of three Hilldale seniors, recited a recurring theme of this year’s campaign.
“We’re more positive and playing more as a team this year,” she said. “I know from how I started three years ago, the change has been big. Coach Hensley is a really good coach.”
The core of the Hilldale turnaround will be back next year, and on Friday it also played into the team aspect with three players in double figures with Nicole Wright leading the way with 13 points while Hillary Calvert had 11 points and Destiny Riddle chipped in 10 points.
For the Lady Cougars (10-9) it was another verse in the same song that has troubled them all season long: keeping post player Sydni Rainbolt out of foul problems. She drew her second foul early in the second quarter, sat out a good portion of that quarter, and some of the third after getting her third foul shortly after intermission.
“She’s got to learn to play without fouling,’ said a disappointed Keys coach Mickey Duncan. “She hasn’t figured it out in 19 games and I don’t know if we’re going to get it figured out or not.”
Rainbolt scored those first five points of the game for the Lady Cougars and that was it for the night. Ali Nolan was the leading scorer for Keys with nine points.
The Lady Hornets travel to Catoosa on Monday for their regular season finale before the playoffs get underway next weekend. Keys will be home to Oologah on Monday.
Keys 58, Hilldale 50
The Cougars (11-10) used the inside muscle of Payton Ragsdale and the long range 3-point shooting of Trevor Eubanks to overpower the Hornets.
But not without a fight.
The game was nip-and-tuck the first half as Keys led most of the way, but never by more than a handful of points. But with the Cougars on top 26-22, Hilldale closed out the half on an 8-0 run to lead by four, 30-26 at the half.
Eubanks, who canned four NBA-range 3-pointers on the night, scored 13 of his game high 23 points in the third quarter to help Keys go back on top 41-36 at the end of three. And the Hornets had no answer inside against Ragsdale, who had 18 points with most of them coming on put backs or short passes into the paint.
“Their big kid really hurt us,” said Hornets coach Jeremy Rogers. “We didn’t have anyone who could box him out or match up with him. But we also got a little dead-legged and shots weren’t falling in second half very well.”
The Cougars outscored the Hornets 6-2 in the first three minutes of the final stanza to stretch their lead to 44-38 and that was as close as Hilldale (5-16) would be able to get the rest of the game.
“We got out to an eight- or 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and made them play chase for a little bit,” said Cougars coach Duane Jones. “We’ve been in that situation three or four times lately, but we’ve been the ones doing the chasing, so it was kind of nice to be ahead.”
Besides Ragsdale and Eubanks, Cody Cole added 10 points for the Cougars and drew some praise from his coach.
“I thought Cody Cole got after them defensively. He had four or five steals and several loose ball plays where he was hustling,” said Jones.
Dylan Rowan was the leading scorer for the Hornets with 13 points and Hunter Harrison had 10 in the game, as those two along with Trent Kirkpatrick, played their final game at home for the Hornets.