JACKSON — It’s always tough to go through adversity in any facet of life.
But when a person, or a group of people, come out through adversity on the other side, there are very few things in life that are more rewarding.
Ali Hamilton fought off a tough Miller frontline to accumulate a double-double and post 24 points, Mariah Buckley fought off nagging knee issues to supply 18 additional tallies, and Kaylee Stone toughed out a sprained ankle to nail two critical second-half treys en route to leading the New Boston Tigers’ girls basketball program to a huge 63-50 victory over the Corning Miller Falcons’ girls basketball program Sunday afternoon in a Division IV District Semifinal affair that was held at Jackson High School in Jackson.
For Kayla Wiley, the victory was all about New Boston’s continued grit and fight to overcome the adversity that the Lady Tigers stared in the face.
“I thought that Miller did a great job of never losing intensity,” Wiley said. “They kept getting after it regardless of the score. We got out to a pretty good start, and our seniors really stepped up. Ali grabbed some really important boards for us, and she had a double-double tonight. Bri (Humble) came in and was guarding Miller’s (Haille Joseph) to perfection, so I was really proud of that. Mariah took care of the basketball, Kaylee hit a couple of big shots, and Peyton (Helphinstine) got some deflections and was taking care of the basketball, so I thought that the seniors did good all around. I thought that Sammy (Oiler), Lexus (Oiler), and Taylen (Hickman) all did well as well.”
In the opening quarter of action, New Boston wasted no time jumping out to an early advantage as Buckley, Hamilton, and the Lady Tigers obtained as much as a 12-3 first-quarter advantage behind its relentless three-quarters court pressure. That pressure, which had Miller struggling to even get the ball up halfcourt, allowed the previously mentioned pair — who caused all sorts of problems at the head of the press — to score each of New Boston’s first 12 tallies en route to establishing the early nine-point advantage.
However, in an early sign that the Lady Falcons weren’t going anywhere, Miller battled back. A trio of low-post buckets from Haille Joseph, along with two three-pointers from the left side by Ashley Spencer, allowed Miller to close within three, 19-16, by the opening possession of the second quarter.
“The press, at first, was pretty good, but then we started to have some unforced turnovers that I wasn’t really too excited about,” Wiley said. “But the girls kept getting after it. They play hard. They have things that they’ve wanted to accomplish all year, and they’re willing to go to these crazy extremes to get them.”
And that point Wiley referenced was clear over the remaining seven and a half minutes of action, especially on the defensive end of the floor. While New Boston only went 5-of-8 from the free throw stripe during the second quarter of play, the low-post defense that Hamilton, Humble, and Helphinstine supplied for New Boston made it difficult for Miller, when the Lady Falcons were able to drive into the lane, to even make a layup. The Lady Tigers, as a result, went on an 11-2 run during this time to take a 30-18 advantage until Sophia Compston’s buzzer-beating three-pointer from the right wing allowed Miller to close within nine, 30-21, at the halftime break.
Much of the excellent defense that New Boston supplied during the 11-2 spurt came from Humble, who has continued to provide a major spark in that area for the Lady Tigers throughout the second half of the year and did so again against Miller by showing the poise and confidence that has made Humble one of the X-factors to New Boston’s success. The 6-0 senior, without a doubt, played through the toughest piece of adversity of anyone, as her mother passed away on Friday evening.
“I don’t know how Bri did it,” Wiley said, her voice cracking. “But she did it for her teammates and to honor her Mom. She came through, and even though she had adversity, she was thinking the entire time, ‘I’m going to be here for my teammates.’ I believe they were there for her too. She definitely came up and helped us tremendously, and we appreciate her being here tonight. She played with a ton of heart and energy, and that’s extremely tough to do in such a circumstance.”
When Miller cut the lead to a seven-point deficit behind another quarter-opening bucket from Joseph, New Boston’s crafty point guard decided it was time to nail the throttle. Buckley, who played at an excellent pace all game long, moved inside for a layup, found Hamilton on a nifty pass in the low post, and scored on yet another layup inside. The senior then added yet another layup to post an eight-point quarter and give the Lady Tigers their largest lead in the quarter, 44-31, with three minutes to go in the third quarter.
“With her knee injury last year still fresh there, she’s diving all over the floor, driving hard to the rim, and battling to force tieups and deflections,” Wiley said of Buckley. “Her knee’s been bothering her a little bit tonight, but she pushed through. She was being aggressive with them.”
Still, New Boston had to fend off several challenges from Miller. A bucket from Compston, along with a three-pointer from Lacey Alexander, allowed the Lady Falcons to cut the lead to eight, 46-38, with less than a minute to go in the third quarter of action.
However, the senior trio of Buckley, Hamilton, and Stone didn’t let the Lady Tigers give in. Stone, who nursed a sprained ankle throughout the affair, nailed a huge three-pointer from the right side with less than 50 seconds to play in the frame, and Buckley ultimately followed with a huge three-pointer from the left corner to increase New Boston’s lead to a 52-38 margin as the fourth quarter got going.
“Kaylee’s always hitting those big threes,” Wiley said. “We’ve been struggling here over the last week with sickness and injuries, but we’re going to keep fighting. We’re not going anywhere, and we’re not going to use those things as excuses. Kaylee came right back in there, hit two big threes for us, and played very scrappy defense. That shows that we’re going to be the team that fights through that adversity and those injuries. I can guarantee that.”
Then, when Miller followed with an 8-1 spurt to cut the Lady Tigers’ advantage down to a 53-46 tally, Hamilton’s relentlessness in the low post led to eight huge fourth-quarter points as New Boston began its third and final sizeable run. Stone added a second three from the right side to cap off a huge 10-0 spurt that put the game away for good.
“They had some really big buckets,” Wiley said of Buckley, Hamilton, and Stone. “The timing of when their buckets occurred were just as big as their overall point totals. I’m always proud of them, and I’m very proud of the entire team. We pushed through tonight even though we had several different adversities during the game and leading up to it.”
For New Boston, the victory not only moved the Lady Tigers’ overall mark to 19-4, but allowed the senior group of five to reach the district finals for the first time since 2009 — when Wiley led her group to that stage as a senior. Wiley, who was a part of a team that was the first to go to the district tournament in back-to-back years since New Boston accomplished the feat four consecutive times from 1991 to 1994, says this year’s group shares strikingly similar characteristics to the 2009 unit.
“It means a lot,” Wiley said. “Both times, it was about the we, not the me. That’s what makes it so special. They’re a great group to watch. They play for each other and they love each other. We’re just a family. That’s what we had back then and that’s what we have again.”
With the victory, New Boston will play Waterford (23-1) on Thursday evening in the Division IV, Jackson I District Finals. The No. 2-seeded Lady Tigers will play the No. 1 Lady ‘Cats at 6:15 p.m. at Jackson High School.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT