The Hanover girls' basketball program is embracing its playoff journey.
On Tuesday evening, the Hawkettes used a dominant fourth quarter and a stingy fullcourt defense to help themselves to a 49-31 victory over Newport in the first round of the District 3 Class AA tournament.
"These girls have bought into the system," second-year head coach Denny Garman said. "We demand a lot from them and they are seeing the results. We sent an expectation and the girls have worked really hard and their hard work pays off."
Hanover (14-9) has won 24 games in the past two years, a feat that has not happened since 1993-95.
"It is great," senior Zoie Cleary said of the win. "Our senior class has never won a playoff game before, and to come out and do it is just awesome."
The Hawkettes have not played in two weeks, a rest the Hawkettes welcomed.
"We needed it," junior Shelby Barnes said. "We had gotten into a rut. We weren't playing Hanover basketball. Those weeks of practice, we focused every single day and really wanted it bad. We came into this game and were just hungry for it."
The Hawkettes started the game by forcing Newport to turn the ball over in each of their first six possessions and built a 5-0 lead. The Buffaloes did not attempt their first field goal for the first 2 1/2 minutes of the game.
"It was a great start," Cleary said. "Getting out to an early lead is huge for us. We are so much more confident when we come out hot."
The Hawkettes then forced some turnovers of their own and Newport tied the game midway through the second quarter. The Buffaloes eventually took the lead heading into the half.
"We were playing nervous," Barnes said. "We looked at the stats at half and saw that they were outrebounding us and out hustling us, and we knew we needed to start rebounding and winning the hustle parts."
"Our girls have never played in an atmosphere like this ," Garman said. "We started fast and got real nervous. We got tight, and I told them to loosen up."
Trailing 18-16 coming out of the half, Barnes started to take over. On the Hawkettes' first possession of the half, she drove the lane, forced the foul and hit one of two free throws. She then forced a turnover, took it the length of the court for a layup to put Hanover up one. After a blown coverage on defense that led to an easy Newport basket, Renee Drawbaugh drained a jumper to give Hanover a 21-20 lead, a lead Hanover would not relinquish. On the inbound pass, freshman Soukaina Tracy stole the ball and made an easy layup to extend the lead to three.
Hanover outscored the Buffaloes 11-5 for the first 6 1/2 minutes of the third quarter, and took a 29-27 lead into the fourth.
The Hawkettes owned the fourth quarter as their defensive pressure held Newport to one field goal attempt in the entire quarter. On the offensive end of the quarter, Tracy took over as she scored eight of her game-high 19 points in the quarter, including Hanover's first six points.
"The fourth quarter was amazing," Barnes said. "You could see that with every minute we held them, it was more frustration and more frustration and we just got more and more confidence. We made them work for every point."
Hanover's point of emphasis over its two-week break was working on its fullcourt press. It paid off Tuesday as the Hawkettes forced Newport to turn the ball over 24 times.
"We worked on our press every single day," Garman said. "We worked on our rotations on it and everything. It really helped. We wanted to come out and try to pressure (Newport) with real tight man-to-man defense. I wanted to run that the entire first half. We have been mixing it up all year and then come out the second half, mix it up and confuse them a little bit to make their girls think instead of play."
More important than the turnovers was what Tuesday night represented.
"We have so much pride in our team," Barnes said. "Tonight was a great opportunity to show a lot of people what we can do."
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Erin Zeiders 6 2-3 14, Holley 2 3-6 7, Schaeffer 3 0-0 6, J. Campbell 0 4-8 4, Albright 0 0-3 0, T. Campbell 0 0-0 0, Morrison 0 0-0 0, Van Horn 0 0-0 0, Temple 0 0-0 0, Gabriec 0 0-0 0, Geyer 0 0-0 0. Totals11 9-20 31.
Soukaina Tracy 9 1-3 19, Zoie Cleary 4 2-2 10, Drawbaugh 4 0-1 8, Barnes 3 1-4 7, Z. Tracy 1 0-0 2, Bowersox 1 0-0 2, Yealy 0 1-2 1, Herrick 0 0-0 0, Silver 0 0-0 0, Gibson 0 0-0 0, Hoffman 0 0-0 0, Hammond 0 0-0 0. Totals22 5-12 49.
Newport 9 9 9 4 -- 31
Hanover 12 4 13 20 -- 49