The Times photo by Bob Cross 
Bayleigh Runner (5) gets a key steal for Hamilton Heights in the sectional finals.
The Times photo by Bob Cross
Bayleigh Runner (5) gets a key steal for Hamilton Heights in the sectional finals.
TIPTON - A jubilant Heritage Christian girls' basketball team had just started cutting down the nets when Hamilton Heights girls' basketball coach Keegan Cherry described what it was like in his team's locker room Saturday after the Eagles had defeated the Huskies in Class 3A Sectional 24 at Tipton.

"We have a sick locker room back there," Cherry said, describing his team's mood. "That is because they care."

Keegan's squad had just dropped a 35-28 thriller to Heritage Christian, who entered the tournament ranked No. 4 in Class 3A and No. 11 overall.

The Huskies did not let that ranking intimidate them, as the game was close the entire way, and the seven-point margin at the end of the game was the largest lead the Eagles would have all game.

Hamilton Heights trailed by four points, 30-26, with a little less than five minutes to play when Heritage Christian coach Rick Risinger had his team hold on to the ball. The Eagles did just that for about two minutes before Cherry gave his team the cue to begin pressure.

A steal by freshman guard Bayleigh Runner put the Huskies in position to pull within two points. Hamilton Heights worked its offense and Runner found a cutting Lexi Branham for a layup that rolled off the rim.

"I couldn't be more proud of my team." Cherry said. "We fought, we battled, and we executed our game plan well, and we were right there until the end of the game. We missed a wide-open layup that would have made it a two-point, one-possession game with about two minutes to play."

The Huskies trailed Heritage Christian 26-23 heading into the final quarter. The Eagles were able to push the lead to seven points, 30-23, on free throws by Hadassah Harris and a bucket by DeShawna Harper. Runner then hit a three-pointer for the Huskies with 5:10 to play, setting up Heritage Christian's stall game, and the Eagles were able to stave off an intense final few minutes to earn the sectional trophy.

"Hamilton Heights played a real nice game," Risinger said. "We were able to turn up the defensive pressure in the second half and kept them off balance by switching out a couple our zones to man-to-man. Offensively, we didn't have it tonight, but that is going to happen, so it was our defense that saved us."

The first half was tight the whole 16 minutes, as neither team had a lead of more than three points. Hamilton Heights' Ana Collar had the hot hand early for the Huskies, scoring six points in the first quarter as Heights outscored Heritage Christian 12-10. Runner then scored five of her team-high 10 points in the second quarter for the Huskies, and the score was knotted at 22-22 at the half.

Ashton Runner scored eight points for the Huskies, and Collar added seven. Hamilton Heights finished 15-10 on the season, which was Cherry's first year at the helm.

"Our seniors - Ashton Runner and Taylor Boyd - did a great job of setting the tone for our younger girls this year," Cherry said. "The bar has been set, and we are not done. We will be back, and we have a strong future ahead of us."