The scenes at the end of the second and third quarters were almost exactly the same.
Moments before the buzzer sounded to end each period, Maci Kuchta let the ball fly from beyond the arc and nestled it into the net for a 3-pointer.
“Buzzer-beaters are just amazing,” Kuchta, a Hickman senior, said. “You kind of get chills when it goes in and everyone jumps in the stands.”
Six of Kuchta’s team-leading 18 points came on those two shots, and she led Hickman girls basketball (9-14) to a 54-45 senior night win over Battle (7-13) on Monday. The Spartans never came within touching distance after a 13-0 Kewpies run in the second quarter and saw their three-game winning streak snapped.
Battle’s only leads of the night came in the first quarter, when Kaelyn Johnson scored the team’s first 10 points. What looked like a possible career night for the freshman fizzled out, however. Her first-quarter contributions turned out to be a majority of her scoring for the game.
Kuchta, who is committed to play at the NAIA level in college at William Penn University, was one of five seniors the Kewpies honored before the game. Although Hickman appears headed for its third straight losing season, coach Anna Rorvig stressed the importance of the seniors’ work ethic and persistence.
“It’s been a struggle for them and for us the last four years to get in that win column,” Rorvig said. “But I think watching them play, I don’t think anyone would fault their effort. They’re always bought in.”
As five Kewpies near the end of their high school careers, a crop of promising freshmen flashed its potential in Monday’s win. Led by 16 points from Ella Rogers, 26 of Hickman’s 54 points were scored by three first-year players.
“They’re all three no longer playing like freshmen,” Rorvig said.
Battle got major contributions from its younger players as well. Behind Johnson, the Spartans’ second-leading scorer was Ke’Shai Hayes, who scored eight points in the paint and added another five from the free-throw line.
Battle fought back in the fourth quarter, closing the gap to single digits by the end of the game, but the Spartans’ decision to play a zone defense rather than press allowed the Kewpies to run down the clock and preserve their advantage.
“I was surprised at that point that they did go to it,” Rorvig said of Battle’s zone look. “The thing about playing a zone (is that) offensively, you can take as long as you want ... With no shot clock, you have the ball and they don’t, they can’t score. So we tried to use that to our advantage.”
Battle will play twice more this week, hosting Marshall on Wednesday before traveling to Jefferson City on Friday. Hickman was unable to reschedule last week’s postponed game at Southern Boone and will wrap its regular season Feb. 27 at Jefferson City.
“Our district is loaded, so we’ve got a tough task down the road with Jeff City next Thursday and then districts right around the corner,” Rorvig said. “But our kids have gotten so much better.”