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Hamilton ‘torches’ Velva for career high

By Staff | Jan 17, 2014

Lori Gronvold/PCT Rugby High School senior guard Chris Hamilton dribbles by Velva defenders in the Panthers' 70-48 win on Tuesday. Hamilton scored a career-high 25 points.

VELVA – Chris Hamilton said he didn’t do anything special with his shot before Tuesday’s 70-48 win over Velva. He didn’t eat differently or sleep more, but he did wear glasses during a strong practice on Monday.

The Rugby High School senior guard ran out of contacts for one eye over the weekend and received a replacement before playing the Aggies. Hamilton’s not sure if it was the glasses the day before or the new contact that sparked him, but any look at the hoop appeared clear and big.

Hamilton hit 5 first-quarter 3-pointers en route to a career-high 25 points, eclipsing his previous high of 18 that he set against Velva last year.

“I actually shot really well (Monday) with my glasses, so I guess maybe I should do that before every game,” said Hamilton, who entered the game averaging just more than six points.

He missed his first shot from long range, but connected on the next five attempts and the No. 2 Panthers (10-0 overall, 2-0 District 11) looked for their hot hand often. Hamilton finished 7 of 12 from beyond the arc and forced Velva out of it’s strategy of keeping juniors Brad Heidlebaugh and Tanner Bernhardt out of the lane.

“They stepped up and that’s why they’re the No. 2 team in the state,” Velva coach Matt Norby said. “They’re deep. Hamilton had a hell of a good game, did a nice job. Hats off to him. He came in and we had a game plan and he beat us. He torched us for it. Kudos to him.”

Heidlebaugh and Bernhardt still scored in double figures with 12 and 11, respectively, but it was junior forward Zach Miller who benefited most from Hamilton’s hot start. Miller finished with 17 points and 13 came in the second half, including a perfect 5 for 5 on free throws.

“It opened up the floor and we could make cuts and get to the basket and finish,” Miller said. “They’re a really physical team, so we had to finish strong and get to the free-throw line.”

Hamilton kept Velva guessing as he didn’t sub out until the start of the fourth quarter.

“Once I hit that first one, it felt really good,” Hamilton said. “I shot my next one and made that. Last year when I got hot against Velva, that’s how it felt and this time it felt the same way, so I kind of got a feeling I was gonna be hitting ’em.”

Rugby’s biggest lead hit 27 when Bernhardt completed a three-point play early in the fourth quarter. The Aggies, led by senior Tucker Wojahn’s 12 points, then went on an 8-0 run for its most consistent stretch of the game. RHS coach Mike Santjer put starters back in to stem the tide, but soon enjoyed a laugh with Hamilton, who received a well-deserved applause from the traveling fans.

“We had talked about somebody’s gonna step up because we figured they were gonna throw some type of match-up zone against us or something,” Santjer said. “We just had to have other guys step up and obviously he did tonight, which was great.”

The school’s 3-point record for a single game is nine, set by Danny Schneider.

No. 2 Rugby 61, Westhope-Newburg 43

The Panthers took care of district foe Westhope-Newburg 61-42 on Jan. 9 at Charles Hanneman Gymnasium.

Heidlebaugh continued his monster season with a career-high 31 points and finally flushed home the elusive dunk in early part of the game. The key: two hands.

“Whenever I go up one-handed, I always lose it,” Heidlebaugh said, “or when I come down I come down too hard and it goes off the back rim. It’s so much easier going two-handed. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often.”

Santjer was happy to have that minute obstacle out of the way, but remembered how quickly the Sioux raced down the court to score as the Panthers basked in the dunk hype.

“I would say you could tell it was three weeks off since we played our last game off Christmas break,” Santjer said. “We came out a little rusty. Too much practice and not enough games.”

Bernhardt added 12 points off four 3-pointers.

No. 2 Rugby 63, North Star 52

The Panthers received one of their more unique tests of the season with a game in Cando. North Star junior forwards Alex Weston (6-6) and Christian Kvilvang (6-5) challenged RHS with height and range.

“The game was at about 15 points the whole contest once we came ahead,” Santjer said. “They’re long. So they were able to contest some of the shots that we took. Playing in that gym, it’s always a huge home court advantage for them, so they always shoot well and play well there.”

Heidlebaugh scored a game-high 29 points and Kvilvang led the Bearcats with 16 points.

Nolan Hovland saw his first action of the season coming off an injury and the RHS bench provided a big boost.

“I’d say that we’re deeper than a lot of teams and deeper than a lot of people think we are,” junior reserve Eric Hooker said. “Especially with Hunter Hager, Nolan Hovland and myself. We come off the bench and put in a lot of good minutes compared to some other team’s bench players.”

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