First of all, senior inside player Katie Hassett returned to the lineup after twisting her right knee on Friday night (Jan. 26).
Second, and most important, was the fact that the Gators withstood a big third-quarter challenge by Chandler Hamilton and held on to defeat the Hukies 61-58 at the Activity Center, on Senior Night, Xavier’s final home game of the regular season.
Xavier is 21-4 overall entering its final two games of the regular season, road contests against Phoenix Pinnacle on Friday night (Feb. 2) and against Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s on Feb. 6.
By finishing off Hamilton (17-8), Xavier was able to finish the 6A Conference Premier Region season with an eight-game sweep, two wins each against its four region opponents.
This game against Hamilton was much different than the one at Hamilton on Jan. 9. Xavier cruised in that one, 66-30, but this time, Hamilton was ready to challenge every step of the way.
Xavier led 39-25 at halftime, but the score seemed closer than indicated. Hassett started and scored 11 points in the first half. She did not score in the second half, but played a key role on defense and with her rebounding.
The Gators scored just four points in the third quarter and led by just one going into the fourth.
Junior wing Addison Putnam hit three 3-pointers and added two more in the fourth quarter to help keep Xavier afloat. Sophomore Elysia Fleetwood drilled a key 3 with about five minutes left in the game to make it 51-46.
Xavier led 59-52 on a pair of free throws by Leilani McIntosh with 1:10 to go, but Hamilton wasn’t through yet.
The Huskies scored a basket, hit a 3-pointer and then a free throw to make it 60-58 with 14 seconds left. Time was running out and Hamilton was forced to foul. McIntosh converted one of two free throws with 12 seconds left, and the game ended with players from both sides flying into a big pile trying to control a loose ball.
It was then that the Xavier fans could breathe a little easier.
McIntosh led Xavier with 19 points, Putnam had 15 and Hassett 11.