Second-year Hough wins I-MECK 4A conference tournament
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
Hough High’s girls basketball team began the I-MECK 4A conference tournament in the dark. That was a good thing.
The Huskies, who prepared by using visualization techniques together in a dark room, ended up in the spotlight as tournament champions.
Second-year Hough defeated Hopewell 41-25 in the championship game Feb. 17 at Mallard Creek, capping an impressive three-game performance in the tournament.
“They did what champions do,” coach Sonja Tate said. “They step up.”
Center Julia Brown scored seven of her 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Brandi Arey scored 12, and point guard Anna Diggs added 10 points.
Hough (18-8) led 25-21 heading into the fourth quarter. Brown scored on a breakaway, and added a free throw for a 28-21 lead. She then fed Kelsey Dean for a layup, and Arey’s 3-pointer bumped the lead to 33-21 with four minutes left.
“It’s exciting and rewarding, but the girls worked hard to get where we are right now,” Tate said. “They’ve listened to all the advice and coaching. It’s been to their benefit and the program’s benefit.”
Diggs’ two free throws with 69 seconds left were the clincher, and set off the postgame celebration.
The Huskies could have been discouraged.
Hough lost the last two regular-season conference games, and their one-game lead slipped away as Hopewell won the regular season title.
It wasn’t the best springboard into the conference tournament. But you’d have never known it watching Hough roar through its three victories. That letdown, while perhaps understandable, proved to be unacceptable for Tate and her players.
“The girls bounced back,” Tate said. “Those were some tough games.”
Hough was effective in the fourth quarter, when it outscored Hopewell 16-4. Brown, a sophomore, had three steals, including one in which she raced from mid-court to the corner to arrive before a Hopewell player.
“We all worked together and were really feeling it in the second half,” Brown said. “I think we brought the intensity and were able to maintain it.”
Hopewell (18-8), which won its third consecutive regular season title, was held to a season-low 25 points. The Titans missed plenty of shots and six free throws in the third quarter when the game hung in the balance.
“Every time we play Hough, we have a pity party,” Hopewell coach Gary Richmond said. “We miss a few shots and the (players’) heads go down. Then we didn’t pay attention to detail on defense. It’s a mental thing. This is a young team, and we didn’t play well from behind.”
Shareé Boyd led Hopewell with nine points, and Tae Lynch scored eight. Most of Hopewell’s shots were contested by Hough’s active defense.
“We try to establish ourselves with a great defensive plan,” said Tate, a former WNBA player.
“It’s team defense. We help out, and that was definitely an emphasis. The energy they give, night in and night out. Especially Brandi and Julia. They’re physical and very active.”
Hough advanced to the tournament championship game with its usual blend of tenacious defense and balanced scoring. In the 55-45 victory against Vance in the quarterfinal, Brown scored a game-high 20 points, Dean scored 13 and Arey added 10.
In the semifinal, Hough edged host Mallard Creek, 56-54, behind Dean’s 26 points, Arey’s 10 points and Diggs’ nine.
In all three tournament games, Hough outscored its opponent in the fourth quarter.
“It was definitely a defensive game in the first quarter, trying to figure out what’s working and where we can be open to hit easy baskets,” Tate said. “We’re definitely in great condition, so we tried to push the ball up (the court) in the fourth quarter.”
Brown said she’s looking forward not only to the state playoffs, but being together with most of her teammates for the next two seasons. Hough doesn’t have any seniors on the roster, meaning the entire bunch likely will be together next season, ready to parlay their experience into again being a conference contender.
“We’re all about the same age,” Brown said. “We play well together, and we know each other’s games.”