Hillgrove (7-1, 4-1 Region 4AAAAAA) found itself trailing by seven with less than 4 minutes to play in the game, and with McEachern (2-6, 2-2) in total control with its fullcourt pressure.
But the Lady Hawks didn’t give up. Once they settled, they scored eight unanswered points down the stretch — six of which came from the free-throw line.
Jaya Smith provided the game-winning layup for Hillgrove with only seconds left on the clock, and the Lady Hawks’ defense made one last stand when Triana Tisdale’s game-winning 3-point attempt missed its target.
Hillgrove, which lost to McEachern in last year’s Class AAAAA state championship, allowing the Lady Indians to cap their undefeated season, led for most of Tuesday’s rematch against a younger McEachern squad that lost four key seniors from last year’s team.
“This win feels amazing,” said Hillgrove junior Mackenzie Engram, who had a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds. “We were the underdogs, and to come in here and beat them at their house was great. I love my team.”
Hillgrove seemed disoriented early in the fourth quarter, once McEachern starting forcing turnovers, and taking advantage of those miscues, to build its biggest lead of the game. The Lady Hawks lost the ball 27 times, with 17 of those turnovers coming in the second half.
Hillgrove went through a spurt when it had difficulty pushing the ball down the floor. Its pass attempts in transition were often deflected, and the Lady Hawks had difficulty dribbling without the ball being stolen.
Te’A Cooper also got on a roll for McEachern, scoring all of her 12 points in the second half. But after the Lady Indians’ Mia Cooper hit one of two free throws for a 39-32 lead, Hillgrove stopped turning the ball over.
“We got out of control (against the press), and that was killing us,” Hillgrove coach Susan Milam said. “We had to get back under control and stick to our patterns.”
The Lady Hawks forced McEachern to foul on their next two possessions, and Aleigha Cass and Zarriah Pierce knocked down both of their free throws to get Hillgrove within three points.
After making a defensive stop, Hillgrove came through again when Engram hit a layup with 1:47 left to play. Then, another defensive stop led to another pair of Pierce free throws for a 40-39 Hillgrove lead.
KlinTisha Martin hit a quick layup to give McEachern its lead back with a minute left, but Smith answered right back for Hillgrove, which ended up being enough for the win.
It was another tough loss for the rebuilding Lady Indians.
“They made their free throws late, and we just made some mental mistakes and young mistakes,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said. “We’ll get better with more playing time.”
McEachern’s struggles shooting in the first half, and going 0-for-6 on the free-throw line in the first quarter, also attributed to its loss.
Hillgrove started out defending the post, keeping the Lady Indians’ shooters on the perimeter and forcing them to shoot from beyond the arc often in the first half. They were only 3-for-13 on 3-pointers.
Jada Lewis led McEachern with 15 points.
Hillgrove 67, McEachern 35: Kyle Castlin scored a game-high 29 points to lead the Hawks over their Powder Springs rival.
Hillgrove (7-1, 4-1 Region 4AAAAAA) led 24-16 at the half, but it scored on its final 10 possessions of the third quarter to build a 51-28 advantage.
John Franklin scored 17 points and Aren Screen added nine for the Hawks.
Logan McIntosh led McEachern (3-5, 1-3) with 11 points.