Class 3A Highland Sectional
Hanover Central 36, Highland 33
Trojans sophomore Jordan Steele had a game-high 19 points
By STEVE HANLON
HIGHLAND – The gym was rocking.
The tension was boiling.
The winner-take-all showdown on Saturday night was hanging on pins and needles.
Highland standout sophomore guard Jordan Steele drove down the left side of the lane and went up for a runner, like she’d done for much of the Class 3A Highland Sectional championship game, and Steele had space to get points off the glass.
But Hanover Central senior Gabrielle Comia jumped from behind and blocked the shot out of bounds. After one dramatic bounce, it hit Steele out of play.
There was 4:57 left in the third quarter and the Trojans held a one-point lead.
“That was sensational, unbelievable,” Hanover Central coach Larry Govert said after Hanover won the championship 36-33. “That changed the entire momentum of the game. We don’t have basketball players here. We’ve got soccer players and softball players.
“But this is so great for these kids. They’ve worked so hard. Every one of our players contributed to this win.”
The Wildcats (17-7) earned their sixth sectional championship in school history and first since 2015. And they snapped a four-game losing streak to the Trojans (14-8) over the past two seasons. Highland beat Hanover 43-34 in last year’s sectional championship game.
Hanover will play Bremen (14-11) in next Saturday’s regional at a site to be determined.
Highland led Hanover 17-12 at halftime in a contest that resembled a rugby match at times. The only offense in the first half came from Steele, who scored 10 of her game-high 19 points in the first 16 minutes.
“She’s incredible and she’s only going to get better,” said Govert, who had Mike Steele, Jordan’s father, as an assistant coach when Govert was head boys basketball coach at Hanover back in the 1990s.
“We couldn’t check her in the first half, but I think our depth gave us a boost in the second half.”
Hanover substituted nine players most of the game, while Highland relied on the five starters. And with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Steele was fouled while shooting a 3 and hit her head with a thud on the floor after the collision. She didn’t score again after the foul.
“I won’t be surprised if she's got a concussion,” Highland coach Darian Patton-Straughter said.
She also had words to say about the block by Comia that occurred a few minutes before Steele hurt herself.
“We’ve been playing five girls all year and their depth wore us down. That block was huge. They got all the momentum and we never got it back.”
Comia has a sectional hoops title now, but she is a softball superstar. She will take her game to the University of Florida once she graduates.
“Honestly, I’m usually in foul trouble when I play, but I knew I was good in this game,” Comia said. “So I went for it. It changed the whole momentum in the game. I knew my teammates would have my back after that.”
And boy, did they.
After “The Block,” junior guard Sienna Antkiewicz got a steal and a bucket, followed by a monstrous 3-pointer that gave the Wildcats their first lead since the first quarter. Antkiewicz finished with nine points off the bench.
“In the first half , we couldn’t hit a shot,” Antkiewicz said. “They were really tough. The block got us going, fired us up. Our offense was good in the fourth quarter.”
The Wildcats scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, while Highland only had four and both buckets happened in
Hanover Central players
celebrate Saturday's sectional
win over Highland. (Photo by
the final 30 seconds as Govert was turned to the crowd with his hands up and the visitors went crazy with joy.
“We knew we could get the job done,” senior Sienna Stilley said after scoring 13 points with seven boards. “We were terrible in the first half, but we kept pushing each other. We played with hope and confidence in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t even put into words what this means to us.”
Govert also gave big credit to junior Bridget Noel, who scored four points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
"I'm almost without words," Patton-Straughter concluded. "I'm so proud of these girls. They gave it everything they had, but (Hanover) got us in the end."
Highland's Savannah Ballard scored five points and Leyan Khalil added four.
Hanover Central won the Class 3A Highland Sectional on
Saturday, defeating the host Trojans. (Photo by Grace Hanlon)