SENIOR NIGHT CELEBRATION … With her teammates standing by and a standing ovation underway, Hilltop senior Hannah Bleikamp is joined by her parents, Bobbie and Philip Bleikamp, along with Head Coach Aaron Schmidt in celebration of her 1,000th career point.
By Timothy Kays
WEST UNITY: February 11, 2014 – The Hilltop Lady Cadets know how to throw a Senior Night bash. After their February 11 tilt, the Antwerp Lady Archers can attest to the fact. Emily Armbruster led all scorers with 21 points, Hannah Bleikamp broke the 1,000-career point barrier, and Kayla Settlemire, out injured since the Swanton game, made it onto the hardwood of The Bunker one more time as the Lady Cadets unloaded the frustrations of a three-game losing streak on the Lady Archers by a 66-30 score.
The road to Senior Night was, at best, rocky. A loss to Swanton after the Lady Cadets failed to hold a late lead was followed by the same thing to BBC rival Pettisville…a loss that cost them a piece of the conference title. An obviously demoralized an banged up Hilltop squad was then clobbered by Edgerton on February 8, leading to the Senior Night game. The focus of the Lady Cadet faithful was on Bleikamp, a Sienna Heights-bound senior who came into the contest just six points shy of 1,000 for her elite career. The focus of Bleikamp and her teammates though was decidedly different…get off the schneid, and get back to playing winning, Hilltop hoops.
Both teams came out with tough defenses that kept each other off the scoreboards in the early going. A full-court press by the Lady Cadets was equally effective as the 2-1-2 full court zone press of Antwerp. Eventually though, the team with better ball movement and control began to find chinks in the armor of their opponents, and that team was Hilltop. With Antwerp well aware of the potency of Bleikamp, they could not afford to double up on her senior partner, the equally dangerous Emily Armbruster. It was Armbruster’s paint plowing that gave the Lady Cadets an early lead that they would never surrender. On the other end of the floor, the Lady Archers were finding senior Kailey Creamer’s point defense almost omnipresent, and fellow senior LeAnn Joost a pain in the paint. Antwerp did not get onto the scoreboard until less than a minute remained in the first, and they went into the second trailing 11-4. The Ladies In Red would turn the game into a blowout in the second.
Bleikamp had ample opportunities to wrap up her 1,000th point earlier in the first period, but instead chose to pass off in favor of sure scoring opportunities…a strategy that proved successful on the scoreboard. As her point total slowly rose, so did the anxiety of the crowd. When a three attempt from the upper left side hit the back iron, the collective groan from the audience could be felt as easily as it was heard. The patience of the Lady Cadets on the floor was winning the game, and as the clock ticked down toward the three minute mark in the half, the impatient audience finally got to see the history made that they eagerly anticipated.
Still playing the tough pressure defense, Bleikamp got a hand on the ball being dribbled by an Antwerp guard. Although more a ball-handling disruption than a steal at the beginning, the action caused the Lady Archer to lose control of the ball for a split second…and that was all Bleikamp needed. With the Lady Archers already falling back, Bleikamp cleared the ball to herself and took off on the right side. With one defender in front of her, two to her right and the all-too-recently pilfered Antwerp guard nipping at her heels, Bleikamp cut into the tight side of the lane and let go a running jumper from six feet away. The ball went in, and at the 3:06 mark in the second quarter…8:17 pm for those who missed the game, Hannah Bleikamp became the third Lady Cadet to break the 1,000 career point barrier. The deuce from the paint was point number 1,001.
The game was stopped temporarily as public address announcer Tom Schaper announced the event to what had become a loud and sustained standing ovation. Hannah received the congratulatory hugs from her teammates, and then from her parents, Phil and Bobbie Bleikamp who came onto the floor. Hilltop Head Coach presented Hannah with the game ball, after which many of the hometown faithful put down the signs of support that they were holding up to that point, pulled out cameras, and began snapping photos of the historical moment. The Lady Cadets went on to expand their lead to 21 going into the intermission at 38-17.
Unfortunately for the Lady Archers, the timeout taken to honor Hannah Bleikamp was just a brief respite. The second half remained to be played, and the Lady Cadets, still riding the high of a history-making moment and a 21-point lead, were not about to have a replay of the Swanton and Pettisville games…uh-uh.
The hometown girls hit the hardwood in the second half with the same direction that they had coming into the game, and the intensity to back it up. This time around, there would be no late rally. The Lady Cadets went on 17-7 run in the third to open the advantage to 31 at 55-24. In the fourth period, there were only two things remaining to accomplish. Make sure that there was not going to be any late-game suspense…check. The Lady Cadets continued to add to their lead to ensure that point. all that remained was to make sure that Senior Night was truly, Senior Night.
With under four minutes left in the game, Coach Schmidt took care of that detail when he called Settlemire off the bench to check in. Unable to play but still able to suit up, the addition of Settlemire to the lineup allowed her to join her fellow seniors Joost, Creamer, Bleikamp and Armbruster on The Bunker hardwood one final time before their hometown faithful. All five then checked out, bringing an end to their home regular season careers. The lead and the game well in hand, the Hilltop Lady Cadet Class of 2014 went out in style with a 36-point win.
Armbruster finished with 6 boards, 4 steals and a game-high 21 points for the 13-7 / 6-3 Lady Cadets, and Bleikamp went for 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 swipes. Cierra Grant knocked down 9 points, Creamer had 7 points, and Bailey Funkhouser rained down a trey. Joost finished with 2 points, Destiny Denton had a deuce and a dozen dimes, and Allie Schmitt and Karissa Crisenbery came off the bench to each add another 2 points.
A big-time celebration in small-town America…this Senior Night Bash in The Bunker only took a couple of hours to complete, but the memories generated on this night are guaranteed good for a lifetime.
SCORING BY QUARTER:
Hilltop 11 27 17 11 – 66
Antwerp 4 13 7 6 – 30
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org