MCDERMOTT — When it becomes winning time, the elder statesmen of a unit are the ones who are expected to step up.
On Saturday afternoon, the star trio of Ali Hamiliton, Mariah Buckley, and Peyton Helphenstine stepped up to provide excellent work for the New Boston Tigers’ girls basketball program as all three players combined to score 26 of New Boston’s 28 points in the second half en route to a 56-48 victory over the Paint Valley Lady ‘Cats in a Division IV Sectional Final that was held at Northwest High School.
For Wiley, the victory — which came on the strength of free throw shooting and defense — is all due in large part to the little things.
“We worked on a lot of running and working on getting out in transition, and we’ve been working on a lot of the fundamentals that are necessary to close games out down the stretch, such as defense, foul shots, and making the easy pass,” Wiley said. “We’ve been working on those fundamental things that will win us ballgames, and in the end, that work prevailed for us.”
Throughout the first half of action, both teams engaged in a classic battle as neither unit backed down from the other. New Boston, who fell behind by an 11-7 margin after an 8-0 Paint Valley run, showed early portions of what has made the program a tough out all season long as a Kaylee Stone three with 18 seconds left was followed by a crafty layup from Buckley at the buzzer as the Tigers tied the score at 12 after a quarter of play.
That frame, however, was only a precursor to what was to come in the second frame of action.
While Paint Valley pounded the paint with star post players Lexi Woods and Kelsey Dunn, New Boston countered with its deft three point shooting as Stone and Helphenstine offset the work of Woods and Dunn in the low post — who combined for 13 of the Lady ‘Cats 15 points in the second quarter of play — by nailing four three pointers.
Down 27-23 with just over a minute to play in the second quarter, Helphenstine’s third three of the half, and New Boston’s sixth overall, ultimately kickstarted a huge 5-0 spurt that was capped off by a Ali Hamilton basket inside with less than 30 seconds remaining to give New Boston a 28-27 advantage at halftime.
“Luckily, they were hitting their shots,” Wiley said of Helphinstine and Stone. “At the beginning, however, I told the girls that I didn’t want them shooting all outside shots. In the second half, we started driving and getting into the lane, and as a result, we were able to start getting foul calls. We need to have a little bit of consistency of both, but they did keep us in the game early on by hitting shots for us.”
The Lady ‘Cats, however, never panicked and stuck true to their gameplan. In the second half, Woods — a 1,000-point plus scorer for Paint Valley — scored all nine points, including a pull-up three-pointer from the right wing, to put New Boston in trouble as the Lady ‘Cats took a 36-31 lead with 3:32 to play in the third quarter of action.
“I give credit to Paint Valley,” Wiley said. “They really mixed it up for us and caused some problems for us early on as a result. They were really aggressive, and they are a great team who is well coached. I’m going to miss watching their seniors play. Hat’s off to our girls. When it came down to the nitty gritty, they focused in during the fourth quarter and made the plays necessary to win the game.”
However, following a timeout by Wiley, New Boston regrouped and made another rally.
Helphinstine, who continued to do an excellent job slashing to the rim, answered the rally with five consecutive points as her ability to attack the middle of the paint allowed the Lady Tigers to tie the game. When the Lady ‘Cats stepped up to stop Helphinstine — who had a team-high 19 points — the senior followed Hamilton inside, who drew contact and was fouled. The latter nailed two free throws to give the Lady Tigers the lead, and, a steal by Hamilton to begin the fourth quarter — which led to a Buckley layup — allowed New Boston to go on a 9-0 run that allowed the Lady Tigers to take the lead for good.
“Peyton did a heck of a job tonight,” Wiley said. “She was consistent between driving and shooting the basketball. She’s coming on hot now at the end of the season, which is great for tournament time. I thought that Bri did a great job of guarding (Kelsey Dunn). She really helped us a ton. She fouled out early, but she gave us the aggressiveness that we needed in order to win the game.”
While Woods drew a foul and hit the two ensuing free throws to tie the score, Buckley, Hamilton, and Helphinstine continued to stay true to their play. Over the fourth quarter of action, the trio combined to nail 18 of 22 free throw attempts as New Boston ultimately went on a game-sealing 10-3 spurt. Buckley, on her own, hit eight free throws as the senior point guard, along with Hamilton, wreaked havoc in the backcourt.
“Ali and Mariah were all over the floor,” Wiley said. “They were making hustle plays, they were scoring, and they were just making the right basketball plays to set up others. When the game’s tough, you see a lot of our underclassmen give Ali and Mariah the basketball because they’re ready to step up and take the team on their shoulders. Whatever we need, they do.”
With the victory, New Boston moved to 18-4 on the season and advanced to the Division IV District Semifinals in Jackson. The Lady Tigers will play No. 6 Corning Miller — who surprisingly obliterated Belpre by a 59-19 count in a Division IV Sectional Final — on Thursday evening at 8 p.m.
“We’re looking one game at a time,” Wiley said. “Paint Valley came out and played us tough. Hopefully, we work the ball around and do a little bit better job of some of the things that we are working on in practice. I’m thankful for this game, and a win for us is good. It’s tournament time and we’re still in it, so I’m thankful for that and thankful for the girls giving me 100 percent and not giving up, even though things weren’t going our way.”