featureNo. 1 Dodd City uses suffocating defense to capture Class 1A State Championship from No. 2 Nazareth
No. 1 Dodd City uses suffocating defense to capture Class 1A State Championship from No. 2 Nazareth

No. 1 Dodd City uses suffocating defense to capture Class 1A State Championship from No. 2 Nazareth

In four previous state championship game appearances (2002, 2017-19) the Dodd City Lady Hornets basketball team lost to the Nazareth Swiftettes. This year, the No. 1-ranked Lady Hornets (32-0, 10-0) finished their dominant season how they started it — with an impressive win and when it mattered most.

After falling behind No. 2 Nazareth 16-11 at halftime, Dodd City regrouped, used a steady offensive attack, and blitzed Nazareth with a suffocating defensive effort in the second half to record its first state championship in program history by a final score of 30-21.

Even though the win may feel sweeter against a nemesis, Dodd City’s head coach is ecstatic to hoist the trophy rather than focusing on who the opponent was in front of them.

“To me, it’s not about beating Nazareth, it’s about reaching our goal of winning a state championship,” Lady Hornets head basketball coach Alex Stephenson said. “Our continuous commitment to excellence got us over the hump. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.”

Dodd City emphasized paint touches for 6-foot-3 senior post Journie Hilliard early and often, and the strategy looked good as she scored all six of her team’s first-quarter points. However, Nazareth only trailed by one point at the end of the quarter and later used a 9-0 run to take a 14-10 lead. The whole scoring run was produced behind the 3-point line. Dodd City slowed Nazareth down just enough to enter the locker room trailing by five points at the half.

“I had faith that if we could get the lead back in the second half that we would win the game,” Stephenson said. “I knew we could score enough to win, we just had to tighten up on defense so it would stop putting so much pressure on our offense.”

People say defense wins championships, and this cliche rang true as Dodd City cranked up the intensity on defense. Impressively, the Lady Hornets owned the third quarter to the tune of a 13-0 scoring advantage.

The Lady Hornets created a barrage of Nazareth turnovers and the Swiftettes got ice cold from behind the arc. Furthermore, senior guard Dani Baccus imposed her will on the game, do-it-all junior Tori Dotson made plays everywhere on the court, and Hilliard continued to make her presence known down low during the one-sided quarter.

All of this came to fruition without one of the team’s star players in sophomore guard Rion Baccus, who was limited in the action with a knee injury.

“I’ve never been more impressed,” Stephenson said. “Our kids have confidence and we have confidence in our kids, we have a lot of talented players. This group is special, and they rallied and got the job done.”

Dodd City turned a 5-point deficit into an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter, which would not be relinquished as Nazareth could not creep closer than six points down the stretch. The Lady Hornets’ halftime adjustments on defense proved too much for Nazareth to overcome, but this was not the first defensive gem Dodd City produced this season.

“Our team has been built all year on the defensive end. What these girls have done defensively this season is remarkable,” Stephenson said. “This isn’t the first game we’ve done something like that defensively. We have a lot of confidence in our defense.”

Hilliard earned championship game MVP honors after posting 13 points to go with 7 rebounds and several blocked shots. Dani Baccus orchestrated the offense well from the perimeter with 12 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. Dotson did a little bit of everything for Dodd City and scored 5 points. Iris Schilderink led Nazareth with 7 points.

Stephenson emerged from the low-scoring slugfest with a win on his 29th birthday, a gift that is one of, if not, his most precious ones to date.

“I don’t think there could be a better gift. This means the world to me, our community, our school, and our players,” Stephenson said. “To see the kids’ faces, the parents, and our community when the game was over was priceless. This has been a long process to get to this point. Only the ones who have been a part of this journey the last eight years can tell you how hard we’ve really worked. When that final buzzer rang, it was an indescribable feeling!”

The Lady Hornets recorded their first championship-winning season in program history. Seniors Hilliard and Baccus will graduate this year while the rest of the team is slated to return. For more sports coverage, click here.

BOX SCORE

TEAM Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 F

Nazareth 5 11 0 5 21

Dodd City 6 5 13 6 30

Nazareth statistics not available

Dodd City scorers: J. Hilliard, 13; D. Baccus, 12; T. Dotson, 5

Dodd City FGM: J. Hilliard, 6; D. Baccus, 3; T. Dotson, 1

Dodd City 3PFGM: T. Dotson, 1

Dodd City FT: 9-11; D. Baccus, 6-6; T. Dotson, 2-2; J. Hilliard, 1-2; A. Preas, 0-1

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