Lakota West spoils Hamilton’s return to the court

Lakota West's William Layfield dribbles up the court during their basketball game against Lakota East Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 at Lakota West High School in West Chester Township. Layfield scored a career-high 23 points Friday in a win over Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Lakota West's William Layfield dribbles up the court during their basketball game against Lakota East Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 at Lakota West High School in West Chester Township. Layfield scored a career-high 23 points Friday in a win over Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

HAMILTON -- Just when the Hamilton High School boys basketball team seemed to be getting its season on track, pandemic protocols prompted the school on Jan. 14 to shut down all extracurricular activities.

After losing its first five games, the Big Blue had won two straight and four of its last five before being derailed. Hamilton hadn’t played since Jan. 7, and it certainly wasn’t going to let Friday’s unanticipated snowfall get in the way of returning to the court.

Hamilton got back to action on Friday with a Greater Miami Conference home game against a Lakota West team missing GMC leading scorer Nathan Dudukovich and pushed the Firebirds to overtime before losing, 56-54.

‘That’s irrelevant,” Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins said about any impact the layoff had on his team. “It doesn’t matter. We played a game and we lost.”

Hamilton senior Sage Tolentino scored the first six points of overtime to give Hamilton a 56-50 lead, but Lakota West senior William Layfield responded by scoring the Firebirds’ last six points, including a driving layup with two seconds left to lift Lakota West to the win.

“We never thought we were out of it,” said Layfield, who finished with four 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 23 points. “We knew we wanted to win. That’s what we did.”

Tolentino, a University of Cincinnati commit, led Hamilton (4-7, 3-4 GMC) with 16 points. The Big Blue made just three 3-pointers while the Firebirds connected on nine while playing a more deliberate offense with Dudukovich sidelined, wearing a gray walking boot on his right foot.

“We knew Nate was not going to play,” Layfield said. “We knew we had to step up. We knew we had to play hard. We knew we had to play ball.”

“They play hard,” Lakota West (9-8, 5-7) coach Jim Leon said about Hamilton. “For being out three weeks, they were impressive. I told Kevin they’re going to be a good tournament team.”

Hamilton is scheduled to return to the court on Saturday with a GMC game at last-place Colerain. The Big Blue is due to face Mason at Hamilton on Tuesday before a rematch with the Vikings at Princeton on Friday.

Four of the five Hamilton games that were postponed have been rescheduled, starting with Saturday’s game. Hamilton is scheduled to play Middletown at home on Feb. 5, Fairfield at home on Feb. 7 and at Oak Hills on Feb. 12. A home game against Sycamore has been tentatively rescheduled, but will be played only if it has an impact on the conference championship.

Lakota West is scheduled to play a non-conference home game against Milford on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. before traveling to Colerain on Tuesday and playing Middletown at home on Friday.

Dudukovich, a junior averaging 25.2 points per game, was sidelined with a foot injury, Leon said. Dudukovich was scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging test on Saturday, Leon said.

The Big Blue, which hadn’t played since a 47-46 GMC win over Princeton on Jan. 7, went into the game fifth in the GMC standings while having played just six conference games, the fewest by three behind Oak Hills, the next lowest team. The Firebirds were seventh, a half-game behind sixth-place Middletown. They had alternated losses with wins over their last seven games, going 3-4 during that stretch.

The snow did delay Lakota West’s arrival at the HHS Athletic Center, and the varsity game started 73 minutes late. Hamilton, boosted by three quick Firebird turnovers, jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but Layfield scored 10 points and the visitors sank five 3-pointers on the way to a 26-23 halftime lead.

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