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Poise was an issue, but free-throw shooting was not the final two minutes as the host Hunt High varsity girls basketball team continued its climb toward the top of the 3-A Big East Conference standings with a 66-54 triumph against Franklinton on Friday night.
The Lady Warriors swished 9-of-11 free throws the final 95 seconds to pull away to their third conference win against one loss and climb into a tie for first place with archrival Fike and Northern Nash. The Lady Demons lost 41-28 at Northern Nash on Friday. Hunt and Fike collide Tuesday night at Fike.
The Lady Rams departed 1-2 and 10-5, respectively.
The top-echelon Big East foes engaged in a rough-and-tumble fray marred by turnovers and fouls. As Hunt junior Imani Sutton noted: “The refs weren’t calling anything.” But three Franklinton players fouled out in the final three minutes.
“We had every chance possible to win,” expressed Franklinton head coach Matthew Hockaday, “but we blew every opportunity. We did a pretty good job on the boards but, on free throws, we sucked. We had a great first quarter but a bad second quarter — and that made it difficult to come back.”
The Lady Warriors (12-3) wore their emotions on their proverbial sleeves and responded with reckless, sometimes wild, play.
“We were frustrated,” Sutton admitted. “We let them get into our heads.”
Third-year Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks pointed out that senior Tatiana Smith and junior Bria Griffith struggled.
“We get in a rush,” Parks explained. “We are doing a much better job of learning to calm and settle, but we’ve had so many changes of personnel and positioning.”
And after Franklinton chopped a 51-39 deficit to 53-50 on sophomore Katherine Wilkins’ steal with two minutes and 20 seconds remaining, Parks requested a time-out.
“We had to readjust,” Parks said. “We got into a little slump on defense and had to have a wake-up moment. We came out and put it away That was the turning point.”
Added Sutton: “We played together on defense and looked for open people instead of rushing the ball.”
Sutton swished six consecutive free throws the rest of the way; Shaniah Spells hit a pair and Smith sank one while the Lady Rams, missing four players, succumbed to foul woes and turnovers.
Sutton and Griffith were benched at the outset as a disciplinary measure and Franklinton capitalized with a 9-2 start behind junior Rebekah Smith.
“It was kind of hard,” Sutton said of witnessing the start from the bench. “But it made me want to get in and do good for the team.”
When Sutton and Griffith entered, the momentum promptly shifted. Hunt zipped to its first lead of 11-10 on Spell’s bucket and claimed a 13-11 after on quarter on Sutton’s basket with 16 seconds remaining.
“Imani had a little fire,” said Parks.
Down 16-15 in the second quarter, Hunt responded with a 13-2 tear that vaulted it in front for keeps. Junior Khala McNeil, junior Brianna Tucker, senior Tyra Rushing and 6-foot freshman Ariyansa Carlton were clutch contributors.
Franklinton closed the deficit to 38-35 in the third quarter, but Hunt answered with another flurry that included a reverse layup from Smith, a basket inside from Sutton and a putback from junior Dylia Lucas. The Lady Warriors owned a 47-39 margin after three quarters.
“We thought we could capitalize on the way (Hunt) was playing,” Hockaday admitted, “but they capitalized more on our mistakes than we did theirs. They’re a great team.”
Hockaday added the Lady Rams’ hopes faded after standout sophomore Miracle Cornell fouled out with 2:50 left.
Wilkins’ 15 points led Franklinton, while Smith canned 11 and the foul-plagued Cornell nine.
Hockaday contended Franklinton expected to contend for Big East supremacy and still intends to do so with a strong second half.
Sutton tossed in 17 points and grabbed six rebounds. Despite problems on drives, Griffith managed 15 points and eight rebounds. Nine Lady Warriors scored.
“We definitely needed the win,” Parks declared. “Fike will be a tough game (Tuesday night) but we need to continue to dominate the conference like we’re supposed to.
Johnson, Dohnert 6, Seward 5, Wilkins 15, Smith 11, Clifton 4, Cornell 9, Rushing 4.
Griffith 15, McNeil 7, Tucker 4, Rushing 2, Carlton 2, Spells 8, Smith 17, Sutton 17, Lucas 4.
Score by quarters:
Franklinton 11 9 19 15 — 54
Hunt 13 15 19 19 — 66