GIRLS HOOPS: Despite strong effort, Warren’s season ends

HERMITAGE – The Lady Dragons didn’t play Hickory quite as close as last year’s overtime loss, but you can’t fault them for their effort.

After Warren’s girls basketball team took a 25-24 lead early in the third quarter, Hickory outscored the Dragons 34-18 the rest of the way, including 20-10 in the fourth quarter. The Hornets advanced with a 58-43 District 10 Class AAA quarterfinal playoff win on Saturday at Kennedy Catholic High School.

Hickory (20-3) will play Villa Maria (21-2) in the semifinals on Wednesday.

Last year, Warren took Hickory to overtime in a tough contest before falling.

This one may have been tougher from the start.

Senior Jaimie Eaton, third all-time in scoring for Warren’s girls basketball program with 1,330 points, was the only Dragon in this game who scored in last year’s game. In fact, Eaton was the only Dragon playing on Saturday that played in last year’s game.

And Hickory knew it.

Eaton did get her teammates involved early, dishing to freshman D.J. Hahn half a minute in for a 2-0 lead. Eaton would hit a three-pointer in the middle of the first for her only points of the quarter, bringing Warren to within 8-7.

Eaton and Hahn were all over the place. Hahn hit two straight buckets to give the Dragons an 11-10 lead, and dove to the floor twice in 20 seconds to force two jump ball calls.

Nikki Arbanas’ free throw gave Hickory a one-point lead after one quarter. Arbanas, Molly Grober, Megan Chess and Jenna Placzek were the bulk of Hickory’s scoring a year ago and this game was no different.

Eaton and Hahn accounted for Warren’s four second-quarter points and Grober scored five of Hickory’s seven second-quarter points in a 20-16 game at halftime.

With bodies flying around in the third, Hickory went up 24-16 before Eaton brought Warren back with five straight points, and Amy Castagnino scored off an offensive rebound to cut the lead to one.

Hahn’s long-range jumper was ruled a two-pointer for a 25-24 Warren lead, but Hickory answered with a Brandi Beader 3-pointer seconds later.

From that point, Warren was scratching and clawing to keep things close – Hahn and Eaton the main culprits. Hahn scored off an inbounds pass from Eaton to cut the lead to four, and Hahn later converted a three-point play to cut it to four again.

But Hickory kept on scoring.

Eaton’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in the third cut the lead to 36-33 Hickory, but Hickory pulled away from there.

Grober and Chess had six points each for Hickory in the 18-17 third quarter – two consecutive 3-pointers for Chess, who finished with 14 points in the game.

After Eaton took a charge on defense to get the ball back and scored to start the fourth, Hickory went on a 9-0 run to make it 47-35.

Warren’s Paige Wilson hit two free throws before Hickory went on a 10-0 run to put it away.

Warren, a much different team this year than last – not nearly as deep, and impacted by a couple of injuries – lost its last four games to finish 15-8 overall.

“You can’t knock them for their effort,” said Warren coach Lisa Ruhlman. “They played hard.”

Ruhlman said it’s a game that gave her younger players valuable experience, including two freshmen starters and junior Kari Santo’s first year in the program. It’s also the last game for seniors Eaton and Taylor Mineweaser – two Ruhlman said will be difficult to replace.

“I’d like to think we have a (solid team) coming back,” said Ruhlman.

Thanks, in part, to Eaton and Mineweaser.

“They helped me build a program,” she said. “You just hope and you pray it pays off.”

With Eaton, who finished with 17 points in her final game, Ruhlman said the most difficult thing to replace, other than the obvious scoring and defense, will be “her leadership. The coaching she does on the floor.

“And the absolute fierce competitor that she is,” said Ruhlman.

As for the freshmen, Hahn ended with 15 points, all in the first three quarters, and Wilson eight rebounds.

5-foot-11 forward Grober led Hickory with 19 points, including 11 in the second half. Arbanas added 12 points.