Hayden's Jewell Vreeman, left, and Olivia Zehner, right, stifle North Park's Shelby Fliniau in the first half of the Tigers' win Saturday.

Photo by Ben Ingersoll

Hayden's Jewell Vreeman, left, and Olivia Zehner, right, stifle North Park's Shelby Fliniau in the first half of the Tigers' win Saturday.

Cozzens, Graham lead Hayden girls to victory against North Park

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— On a night neither Hayden nor North Park’s girls squads seemingly could buy a basket, a pair of Tigers juniors took over when its team needed it most.

Hayden, coming off a nearly 30-point loss to Soroco on Friday, rebounded against North Park in its regular-season finale, riding huge fourth-quarter performances from Kara Cozzens and Chancey Graham to win, 33-26.

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Hayden's Taylor Hagar scans the North Park defense in the first half of the Tigers' 33-26 win Saturday.

Hayden and North Park entered the fourth quarter tied at 20 apiece, but Cozzens and Graham combined for all of the Tigers’ 13 points in the final period.

It was a win, Hayden coach Michelle Wilkie said, that meant more than it will show in the Tigers’ win-loss column.

Hayden had struggled mightily down the back stretch of the league schedule, and with the district tournament play-in games beginning Tuesday, building confidence was just as critical as padding records.

“They’re going to be our leaders next year,” Wilkie said about Cozzens and Graham. “In the locker room, I told them it’s time for them to step up. Obviously, they both did.”

Hayden led North Park, 8-5, after one quarter, but trailed, 14-13, at halftime.

But a look down the stat sheet by the mid-game break will spell out Hayden’s in-game turnover victory, Wilkie said. The goal was to keep the turnovers in the teens, and at halftime, Hayden coughed up the ball just seven times to North Park’s 17.

By game’s end, Hayden had 16 turnovers to the Wildcats’ 30, a huge boost for a Tigers team averaging nearly 25 per game.

And a scare down the stretch aided by the strong play from Cozzens and Graham is a good thing, the coach said.

“I’m very pleased with the way they played,” Wilkie said. “It’s good for them to have end-of-the-game pressure. They tend to forget to slow it down.”

Graham finished with a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. Cozzens tacked on seven more, six of which came in the fourth quarter. Olivia Zehner, playing in her final game at home, added five points and two rebounds.

No North Park player finished with more than seven points.

With the win, the Tigers are likely to travel to Hotchkiss in Tuesday’s district tournament play-in contest. Hayden struggled with the Bulldogs this season, but Wilkie isn’t concerning her young team with the daunting task.

“We have to believe we can play with Hotchkiss,” she said. “It may not be a win, but we have to be competitive with them. My goal is to be able to handle the pressure they put on us, break the press and keep the turnovers down.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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