As the Hilmar girls basketball team started their season by facing Waterford High Thursday night, first year coach Don Inman paced the sidelines, afraid to celebrate his birthday until the final buzzer.
After all, this Waterford team had turned heads just a few days prior by defeating Hughson 41-31.
But once the last seconds ticked off the clock securing Hilmar a 47-33 win – and a perfect 1-0 record for this early point in the season – cake and balloons flooded the floor as players sang “Happy Birthday” to their new coach and celebrated the victory.
“The kids played really well tonight,” Inman said. “They really are improving daily.”
Hilmar (1-0-0) led from just a minute in, when they claimed a 4-2 advantage they would not relinquish. The Lady ‘Jackets would pull out a 16-10 lead at the end of the first quarter, stretched to 25-10 before Waterford (1-1-0) would score their next points – on an accidental own goal by a Hilmar player.
“We are out of control,” Waterford coach Rick Mury yelled at his players during the Hilmar run.
A late second-quarter rally pulled the Wildcats within six at the half – 28-22 – but Hilmar went on to outscore Waterford 19-11 in the second half to secure the victory.
“I think our defense was really aggressive,” said Hilmar senior guard and co-captain Ashley Wickstom, who finished with 5 points. “They had some strong shooters that were hard to guard.”
Junior guard Morgan McFaddin led the ‘Jackets with 14 points. Eight Hilmar players scored in Thursday night’s game – a credit to the ability of the whole team beyond just the starting five, according to Hilmar senior forward and co-captain Mariah Vitoria.
“I think what’s so special about this team is we have such a strong bench and we all trust in each other” said Vitoria, who had nine points in the victory.
The Lady ‘Jackets will next face Central Catholic in an away game on Monday before travelling to Monterey for the annual Pacific Grove Tournament next weekend. Inman and Vitoria agree that it’s a big one, as it gives the team a taste of playing in big games in a different atmosphere.
At this early point in the season, it’s too soon to say how Hilmar will fare in Trans-Valley League play, but Inman sees good things for his squad.
“I’m looking for a very good season,” Inman said. “Their work ethic has been great, and their attitudes have been great.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.