Warriors take another shot at Northwood-Lena, state championship

Published 8:17 am Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Hamilton Christian has forged another path back to the high school girls state basketball tournament today.

The Warriors want to make their stay in Hammond a little longer this time and will face the team that knocked them out last season.

The No. 3 Warriors (24-6) will take on No. 2 and two-time defending state champion Northwood-Lena (18-12) at 1 p.m. today in the select Division IV semifinals.

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“We are excited and grateful to be back,” Hamilton head coach Edwin Colbert said. “Overall I feel like it is an evenly matched game. … We are just trying to get over the hump and get into that championship game.”

In their first run to the semifinals in program history, the Warriors trailed the Gators by 11 points at halftime in 2023 and lost 63-39. But Colbert said the Warriors have matured since last season.

“We just didn’t have that maturity that we possess this year,” Colbert said. “We have played a really good schedule that has prepared us for this game.

“I feel like we have been battle-tested and ready to go into Hammond, a different but same Hamilton Christian.”

The Warriors have several players from last season’s roster, including seniors Mckenzie Deville (22 ppg, 11 apg) and Riley Fontenot (10 ppg, 11 rpg) and junior Kailynn Dantley (8 ppg, 9 rpg). A pair of underclassmen have added an extra scoring threat in freshman Destiny Ware (19 ppg) and eighth-grader Kayla Harding (14 ppg, 7 rpg).

“We are a little faster,” Colbert said. “We play a more up-tempo style of basketball which suits our young ladies.

“Last year we slowed the ball down some to get it inside to our double-double player, Journi Singleton. This year we have a more guard-oriented set where we can get up and down the court as well as trap on the defensive side and be just as quick on the defensive side as we are on the offensive side. The comparison to this year and last year has everything to do with speed as well as basketball IQ.”

Like the Warriors, the Gators have some key players back from last season, including seniors Rhianna Battles (21 ppg) and Nyasia Moran (14 ppg, 11 rpg), but lost junior power forward Da’Zya Johnson early in the season to an injury.

Northwood-Lena has played in three consecutive state championship games, beating Southern Lab in 2023 and North Central in 2022 and losing to East Iberville in 2021.

While they have won 14 of their last 15 games, the Warriors have been working on cleaning up their play in nearly every aspect to get an advantage on the Gators this time around.

“We have to control the basketball and limit turnovers,” Colbert said. “We have been doing a great job of rebounding, especially against bigger post players.

“Ultimately we have to make free throws. Last year we were a 90-95 percent free throw shooting team, which got us through a lot of games. This year we are not shooting that high of a percentage, but we have been working in practice and getting better at it.

“If we can limit our turnovers, take great shots, make free throws and things like that, as well as the little things like diving on the floor for the basketball and not giving up second-chance shots, then we will be able to come out with the victory.”