If the Dighton High School girls were going to advance to the Class 1A-Division II state tournament they knew it would come down to their ability to play defense in Saturday’s sub-state title game against Natoma.
And the lion’s share of that responsibility fell on Liz Heath and Diamond Brown. They were given the assignment of guarding Natoma’s two primary scoring threats - guards Danica Casey and her younger sister, Regan.
“I told both girls you have no other job. If you have to, overplay them, but don’t give them a shot,” says head coach Amy Felker.
D. Casey entered the game averaging 18.8 points, but Heath limited her to just seven points, including 1-of-16 from the field. Brown held R. Casey to 13 points - two under her season average - but the Natoma point guard was just 5-of-14 from the field.
As well as she played defensively, Heath was just as effective on offense with a team high 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“By the end of the game, Liz was exhausted. She played phenomenal,” says Felker.
She was a huge reason why Dighton (16-7) is heading back to the state tournament following their 44-35 win over the Lady Tigers.
Despite their effectiveness in shutting down D. Casey, the Lady Hornets were still trailing 30-28 entering the final period. Natoma added another basket early in the period and when they regained possession of the ball they decided to go into a delay game in order to protect a 32-28 advantage.
“That’s when I got a little worried because they’re such a great free throw shooting team,” Felker says. “I knew we’d have to step up our defensive pressure, but we couldn’t start putting them on the line.”
The Lady Hornets were able to come up with a pair of big defensive plays that turned the game around.
Natoma tried to get the ball inside to their post player, but it was picked off by junior pivot Leslie Speer which led to a fastbreak basket that cut the deficit to 32-30. Moments later, junior guard Diamond Brown’s steal and layup tied the game at 32-32.
“That took them out of their delay game and you could see they were a little frustrated,” Felker says. “They went back to shooting threes, but we had good defensive pressure and they didn’t get good looks.”
Dighton outscored Natoma 12-3 down the stretch to earn their first state trip since 2009.
“The girls pulled together in the fourth quarter. They believe in each other,” Felker says. “They aren’t worried about who scores or who gets the credit. They are so unselfish.”
Brown, who was 4-of-8 from the field, finished with 10 points, three steals and three rebounds. Speer was held to just nine points, but added eight rebounds.
Offensively, the Lady Hornets struggled from the line (9-of-25) and from three-point range (1-of-9).
At the same time, they limited Natoma to just 9-of-45 from two-point range and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc.