By JIM BELSER
Being shorthanded with two regulars out with injury, Hamilton Heights pulled it together with strong team effort, handing county rival Guerin Catholic a 59-52 defeat Saturday night at the Eagles Nest.
Nearly all Huskies who played scored in the contest and provided stout defensive against the Golden Eagles, often shutting down scoring opportunities and getting stops when it mattered most.
“We are under so much adversity,” Hamilton Heights coach Chad Ballenger said. “But we had a lot of players step up, Gus Etchison played a great game as a freshman, but really a total team effort.”
Michael Cross led with 14 on the night for Hamilton Heights. Teammates Caleb Bean added 12 and Gus Etchison contributed 10, including a pair of clutch 3 pointers in the fourth quarter for the visitors.
For Guerin Catholic, its two 6’ 7” big men did most of the home team’s damage. Zach Munson had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Jack Hansen finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Hamilton Heights outscored Guerin 19 to 11 in the final quarter to secure the win. Tyler Wiltermood’s two free throws in the fourth broke a 43-43 tie for the Huskies in the fourth. After Etchison’s two 3 pointers, Munson countered with an inside score to cut the Huskies lead 51-47 with 3:35 left in the game.
Hudson Hotchstedler found Bean underneath for a score moments later to give Hamilton Heights a 53-49 lead. Hansen for Guerin scored to cut it to 53-51. But it was empty possessions the rest of the way for Guerin, as the Huskies hit 4 of 6 from the free throw line to finish with the win.
“Being a two-time state champion, Guerin is the king of Hamilton County, that’s our third win in a row over them. I am just really proud of my guys right now,” Ballenger said.
Hamilton Heights had the early edge in the first half, leaping out to a 12-7 lead in the first quarter. Tyler Wiltermood had the hot hand for the Huskies, dropping in a pair of three’s. Hamilton Heights got balanced scoring in the first quarter with four players in the scoring column.
Zach Munson for Guerin Catholic was the Golden Eagles sole scorer in the first quarter. After two quarters of play, Munson had 14 out of his team’s 21 first half points.
The low scoring game was tight in the first half with both teams struggling to create momentum for themselves. After being down 14-9 at the end of the first quarter, Munson of Guerin opened in the second quarter with a 3 pointer. A fast break layup by teammate Clay Hepp on the next possession tied the score at 14.
Kian Sill’s right-side driving jumper gave Guerin its first lead of the game 18-17 with 3:05 left in the half. Jake Hansen for Guerin had six first half rebounds, as the first half ended tied at 21.
The Huskies went on a 12 to four run to begin the third quarter. Down 33-26 in the third, the Golden Eagles dropped the ball inside to Hansen for an inside score to close to 33-28. With that, the complexion of the game shifted. The intensity and execution for both teams picked up.
When the third was over, the two teams both had matched the scoring output of the entire first half. The Golden Eagle’s took control of the game for the first time, ending the third quarter up 43-40 before falling behind in the fourth.
Guerin Catholic coach Pete Smith cited his team’s poor shooting and Hamilton Height’s passion. The Huskies finished shooting just 34 percent from the field. The Huskies shot 44 percent.
“Heights played with a passion, and for some reason we didn’t come close to matching that passion and enthusiasm. We got the ball to areas we wanted to offensively a lot, but really struggled converting after we got it there,” Smith said.
Guerin Catholic’s next game is at Arlington at 7:30 on Dec. 8. Hamilton Heights takes on Lewis Cass in an away game at 7:30 p.m. also on Dec. 8.
By JIM BELSER