Hillcrest’s Season Ends in the Semifinals
The Hillcrest Lady Patriots' season ended with a 56-50 loss against the Huffman Vikings. The Patriots were led by freshman Blakeley Nixon, who scored 21 points, and junior Nyeishia Davis, who scored 11. Tamiria Jones led the Vikings with 21, Jamiria Jones had 16, and Destinee Nelson had 10. Hillcrest led by as many as 11 points at the conclusion of the third quarter, but Huffman played outstanding defense against a young team late in the game, and everything went the Vikings' way.
For 27 minutes, Hillcrest controlled the entire game. The Patriots led by six points in the first quarter, shooting 33% from the field. Later, in the second quarter, they shot 54% from the field but did not go to the foul line as frequently as they did in the first, only taking two attempts. Hillcrest led 27-23 at the half.
Hillcrest was scorching in the third quarter. The Patriots scored efficiently in the paint, whether it was Nixon, Davis, or Jareah Branch, and had nine points and nine rebounds. They shot 54% from the field and nailed two 3-pointers. They held Huffman to 23.5% shooting and were unable to make a three-pointer.
When it appeared that Hillcrest had the game under control, the Patriots' inexperience showed. Huffman began to deploy a full-court press, which worked very well because the Patriots were turning the ball over and didn't fully understand how to handle the situation, and the Vikings took advantage.
In the fourth quarter, the momentum went in the way of the Vikings after applying their press defensive. Hillcrest would break it at times but did not do the best job of holding on to the ball or killing the clock. Huffman went on a five-minute run during which Hillcrest did not score another field goal.
With 2:22 remaining in the game, Huffman trimmed the margin to three. Following Farrah Buckner's turnover due to the press, Huffman came down and Nelson scored her only 3-pointer of the game, tying the game. She went one for seven in the contest. With just a minute left on the clock, she then took the lead with a floater. Hillcrest did not score quickly enough, and much time passed.
Huffman's free throws at the end completed the comeback. Hillcrest finished their season with an incredible run.
“I think them just being a little bit tougher down the stretch really was the difference,” Hillcrest head coach Nick Browder. “We controlled the game majority of the game. I think there were some calls that maybe could have gone the other way or maybe some 50/50 balls that they got or some offensive rebounds. That was the difference.”
The big story late in this game was Hillcrest's turnovers and how they were overwhelmed on the offensive glass. Huffman got 22 offensive rebounds, 14 points off turnovers, and 20 points on second chances.
“We said at the beginning of the game if we kept them off the glass, we’d win. At halftime, I said the same thing and to me, that was the difference,” said Browder
There were no seniors on the Hillcrest girls' squad. Essentially, they will have everyone back for next season, and Browder wants his squad to remember and carry this moment with them.
“I really focused on trying to get them to enjoy this moment,” Browder said. “This is something that nobody can take away from them being one of the final four teams left. These girls have a bright future both individually and as a team. I want them to bottle this up, remember this, enjoy it, and help them try to get us to that next step.”
The team's leading scorer was freshman Nixon. She averaged 13 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Nixon has shown a lot of promise in her game, and the experience she and her teammates had in Birmingham bodes well for the future of this program.
“I think I could grow a lot better,” Nixon said. “I didn’t do as well as I expected to do this season but I think I can improve more and contribute more to the team.”
Hillcrest finished the season with a record of 29-6. This team dominated the Area-6 region, going undefeated, and won the area title. Making it all the way to the state semi-finals is an accomplishment. And with a young team, having that much experience will be something to build on in the future, and having a well-established coach like Browder managing this bunch also helps.
Hillcrest girls' basketball has a bright future, and I wouldn't be surprised if they return to the same stage and win a state championship in the coming season.