Hayden girls rise up to knock off Vail Christian | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden girls rise up to knock off Vail Christian

Hayden freshman Emma Johnson rises up for a layup Friday as the Tigers beat Vail Christian, picking up their second win of the season.

— It didn't do much for the league standings, and it won't do anything for district tournament seeding, but the Hayden High School girls basketball team's 39-28 victory Friday night against Vail Christian was as sweet a win as the Tigers could have imagined.

The Tigers broke free of a miserable season Friday to knock off the Saints with a gritty performance that easily was the team's best of the season.

"It was really exciting. Everyone worked together for the first time," senior Savannah Williams said. "We got a lot of momentum, and hopefully, we can keep it."

Hayden entered the game 1-10, a dramatic change of pace for a program that's feasted on league opponents for the past five years. It was coming off a game against rival Soroco in which it trailed 18-0 in the first quarter.

Maybe there was no one who summed up the team's frustrations more than junior Olivia Zehner, who won a 3-point shooting contest at an early season tournament but came into Friday colder than a January mountaintop.

So, it was appropriate that she was instrumental in the Tigers' best night. She drained two 3-point shots and another deep basket in the first quarter, scoring eight points to help the Tigers to an 11-9 lead.

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"That had really dropped my confidence, so it felt really good to come out and make it," Zehner said. "It's hard to lose as many times as we have and come back from that, but tonight, we did it."

She finished with 13 points and was joined in the surge by her teammates through the rest of the game. Williams led with 14, nailing key free throws in the final minute.

But that quick start was crucial for a struggling team.

"They built on that first quarter," coach Michelle Wilkie said. "They got the fire in their bellies."

The game was turnover and foul packed, an ugly affair from both teams, but Hayden consistently got the better of the action, holding Vail Christian scoreless for long stretches. The Saints closed the game to 25-22 with 2 minutes, 31 seconds to play in the third quarter, but the Tigers had the next six points, and Vail didn't score another field goal until the 2:34 mark of the fourth quarter. They made only one more basket after that, and it came with just 2 seconds remaining, after the game was decided.

Hayden improved to 2-10 on the season.

"This was such a confidence boost, such a team booster," Wilkie said. "I'm so proud of the girls, I can't even stand it."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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