Hamilton knew it would have to play almost perfectly against Mercy McAuley in its Division I prep girls basketball tournament first-round game Saturday.
The 19th-seeded Big Blue fell somewhat short of that level. Both teams took 43 shots from the field. Hamilton sank 17 for 39.5 percent, while sixth-seeded Mercy McAuley hit on 27 for 62.8 percent on the way to a 70-43 win at Sycamore.
“That’s a good ballteam,” Hamilton coach Harry Phillips said. “Our margin for error was slim. They do everything the right way. Shooting under 40 percent makes it hard to finish off games.
“They wanted it, but it takes effort to score.”
GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT COVERAGE
Senior CiCi Riggins, who finished her career as the program’s career scoring and rebounds leader, led Hamilton with 16 points and eight rebounds. Classmate Samantha Fuller added 13 for the Big Blue, who ended the season with three straight losses to finish 10-13 for the second consecutive season. Hamilton was looking for its first tournament win since 2016.
The game also was the last for Big Blue seniors Miracle Riggins and Akira Sneed.
“Our seniors stepped up,” Phillips said. “It’s going to take a while to get used to losing CiCi. It’s going to take a while to replace Sam Fuller.
“Overall, our record is the same as last year, but this is a better team. I’ll go to bat with these kids all day long.”
Junior guard Lexi Fleming was 8-of-11 from the field and 6-of-7 on free throws to lead three Wolves in double figures with 23 points.
Mercy McAuley (17-4) is scheduled to meet eighth-seeded Lakota East (8-14) in the second round on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Sycamore. The Wolves beat the Thunderhawks 48-26 on Nov. 24 at East.
Balance was another key for the Wolves. Of their 11 players who saw action, eight scored. Hamilton played 12, but only four scored.
HHS opened the game in a zone defense, but Mercy McAuley senior guard Jenna Schoster sank four 3-pointers to finish the first quarter with 12 points, as many as the entire Hamilton team, to help Mercy McAuley take a 22-12 lead into the second quarter. The hot outside shooting forced Phillips and the Big Blue to abandon their 2-3 zone defense, and the Wolves took advantage with an efficient offense that created wide-open layups.
Mercy McAuley, which plays in the Girls Greater Catholic League, never trailed after Schoster sank a 3-pointer for a 9-8 lead with 4:35 left in the first quarter, part of a 14-2 run that turned an 8-2 Hamilton lead into a 17-10 Wolves advantage. The Big Blue went without a field goal for more than four minutes during that stretch.
“That’s been our issue all season,” Phillips said. “We have a hard time maintaining scoring consistency. We’ll have a nice run of making shots, then we’ll for three or four or five minutes missing opportunities.”
Riggins, limited to one point in the first quarter, scored eight in the second period, but Fleming sank two free throws with no time left on the clock to give the Wolves a 35-24 halftime lead.
Mercy McAuley sank six of its eight 3-pointers to Hamilton’s one in the first half. The Wolves also were 7-of-8 on free throws while Hamilton was just 5-of-9.
The Wolves went 16-of-24 from the field (66.7 percent) in the second half. Schoster made all seven of her shots from the field, including four 3-pointers.
Mercy McAuley 22-13-18-17—70
HAMILTON (10-13): Anna Cardwell 2 4 8; Leah Smith 3 0 6; CiCi Riggins 7 2 16; Samantha Fuller 5 0 13. Totals: 17-6-43
MERCY MCAULEY (17-4): Kieran Casey 1 0 2; Lexi Fleming 8 6 23; Isabelle Dorr 1 0 3; Sophia Ventura 1 0 2; Alexandria Smith 5 2 14; Jenna Schoster 7 0 18; Kassidy Tensing 2 0 4; Ashley Tudor 2 0 4. Totals: 27-8-70
3-pointers: H 3 (Fuller 3), M 8 (Schoster 4, Smith 2, Fleming, Dorr)