The Hammond Golden Bears, showing playoff poise typically associated with Mount Hebron, scored a stunning, 52-43 upset over top-ranked Hebron last night to win the Class 2A, Region II championship and deny the Vikings a chance to win their third straight state title.
Hammond (20-4), which had lost to Hebron twice during the regular season, ended Hebron's 22-game winning streak and handed the Vikings (22-2) their first loss in a regional championship game since 1984. Hebron was trying to win its sixth state championship in seven years and a state-record seventh overall.
"The girls played so great, and look at the pressure they were under," said Hammond coach Joe Russo. "We've always lacked that confidence going into the big game with them [Hebron]. They've always outshined us."
Last night, it was Hammond's turn. The Golden Bears, who in their last meeting with Hebron battled the Vikings before losing by four points, shocked Hebron by taking the lead late in the second period and never relinquishing it.
The Bears took a 27-22 halftime lead, and promptly extended it to 31-22 to start the second half on consecutive baskets by Tiki Nicholson (11 points, four rebounds).
The Vikings spent the rest of the night futilely chasing Hammond. Twice in the third period, Hebron sliced the lead to three points. And with six minutes left in the game, Kris Bryant -- who led all players with 22 points and 16 rebounds -- made a layup to pull Hebron to within 39-38.
But the Bears responded by permitting just two Hebron baskets the rest of the way, while scoring 13 points to dethrone the defending state champs.
"Tonight, we knew if we were confident enough, we could do it," said Hammond guard Kristen Moraz, who backed up her words with a team-high 17 points and six rebounds.
Moraz got the Bears rolling early by hitting her first five shots, all from 15-foot range. Her fifth straight basket gave Hammond a 14-10 lead early in the second period. The lead then hanged hands four times before Moraz hit a 10-foot, baseline jumper with 3:15 left in the half to give Hammond a 21-20 lead. Hebron trailed the rest of the night.
Kacy Williams scored 12 points, had seven assists, and sparked Hammond's defense -- which forced 15 Hebron turnovers and held Hebron to a season-low output. For Hebron, Emily Yanero had eight points, five assists and five rebounds.
Hebron point guard Erica McCauley scored just five points, due in part to fine defense by Nicholson and an Achilles' tendon injury that severely limited McCauley's mobility.
"We didn't know it [McCauley's injury] was this bad until this morning," said Hebron coach Dave Greenberg. "We almost didn't play her. That definitely hurt us. But they [the Golden Bears] can't play much better. They came out confident with nothing to lose. We came out afraid to lose. And it showed."