It was a hard-fought battle in the Hilmar High School gymnasium Thursday night, but the HHS girls basketball team was unable to close out a victory over Mountain House High School in a buzzer-beater finale that saw the Mustangs defeat the Yellowjackets 39-38.
After finishing second last year, the Mustangs are the favorite to win the Trans Valley League following preseason play, where the team boasted a .563 winning percentage. The Yellowjackets were prepared and came into the game with an 8-6 record – evenly matched with Mountain House.
“We knew this was a game we really needed to step up for, and I’m proud of the girls for the way that they did and how hard they fought,” said Hilmar head coach Don Inman.
What was an extremely close and competitive game didn’t start out as such, with Mountain House pulling ahead to an early lead in the game’s first quarter, leading by as many as nine points at times. A basket from Erin Benning sandwiched between two hoops from Hailey Chavez brought the Yellowjackets within striking distance near the end of the first, and the girls headed into the second quarter trailing 13-10.
“We were trying to press a little too hard offensively at first,” said Inman.
Mountain House’s aggressive, fast-paced playing style seemed to overwhelm the Yellowjackets at the game’s start, but by the middle of the second quarter Hilmar relaxed and took the lead 17-15 thanks to a six-point scoring run. The Mustangs had owned the game’s momentum up until that point, sinking several three-point shots, but once the Yellowjackets charged ahead they didn’t look back.
Inman credited Hilmar’s defense for stopping Mountain House’s offensive surge.
“They’re a strong team that shoots a lot of threes, and we were able to control that tonight,” he said. “We’ve been preaching a lot about our defense…and we’re seeing that all come together. I felt tonight was a strong defensive effort throughout all 32 minutes.”
Mountain House has averaged 50.1 points per game so far this season, and Hilmar was able to hold their opponent to just 39 on the night. Benning and Chavez controlled Hilmar’s rebounds, grabbing 12 and 11, respectively.
The Yellowjackets' skillful play continued into the game’s third and fourth quarters, where they scored 12 unanswered points. Thanks to shots from Chavez, Elizabeth Flores and Victoria Chipponeri, Hilmar was able to take a 33-26 lead into the game’s final minutes. Chavez finished the game with 11 total points, while Flores had eight on the night and Benning had 10.
Despite Hilmar’s lead, the Mustangs were never too far behind. Both teams created enough turnovers to produce a quick, tense fourth quarter, and eventually Mountain House’s shots began falling as Hilmar’s bounced off the rim. The Yellowjackets allowed three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, one of which tied the game at 36-36 and another delivered a devastating blow.
The game was seemingly won for Hilmar when Benning made a shot from under the rim after several missed attempts in the final seconds of the game, giving them a 38-36 lead. But, with time for one more possession, Mountain House’s Andrea Garcia let a three-point attempt fly from her hands just as the buzzer sounded and found nothing but net, bringing an exciting yet heartbreaking end to the game with a 39-38 score.
Despite the loss, Inman was proud of the Yellowjackets and their effort Thursday night.
“Our kids didn’t back down…tonight they stepped it up and fought fire with fire,” said Inman. “I’m incredibly proud of the effort they brought. If we play every game like we did tonight, we’re in really good shape.”
The Yellowjackets’ next game is away at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Riverbank High School.