STERLING – Like a bird of prey soaring above an empty field, Hannah Erickson waited just past the midcourt line Wednesday.
The Newman senior guard's eyes zeroed in on her prey, a Fulton player coming upcourt with the ball 30 seconds before halftime of the Class 2A Newman Regional semifinal.
Then she attacked, taking the ball in one swift motion before speeding downcourt for the layup that returned the lead to the Comets.
The play wounded the Steamers' momentum, and, moments later, the Comets went in for the kill in what turned into a 49-29 win.
Newman will play top seed Riverdale at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the championship game.
"We were sitting in our zone," Erickson said, "and I just saw the ball as it was being passed and went for it. After that, I just ran as fast as I could and threw it up for a shot."
The turnover was the 14th of the first half for Fulton (10-20), and the points gave Newman a 20-19 lead moments after the Steamers had grabbed their first and only lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Morgan Sanquist. Fulton finished with 32 turnovers, 21 of them coming on Newman steals.
On the next possession, Rachel Hageman slapped a pass out of the air. The ball bounced to Newman forward Elexia Sanders, who got the ball in the hands of Aubree Schmitt.
Schmitt brought the ball quickly up court and passed it to Hageman, who finished around the basket to give Newman a 22-19 lead with 4.6 seconds left in the half. The assist was one of eight for Schmitt.
"Those were the two plays that seemed to turn the game around," Newman coach Jay Howell said. "I liked the pace of the game that we set. We were able to create turnovers and get shots on the other end. We didn't shoot real well from the field [21-58] or from the line [5-13], but the pace took them out of what they wanted to do."
Fulton closed within a point twice in the third quarter at 22-21 and 24-23, but could not overtake the Comets.
The decisive blow came with 5:01 left in the quarter when Jaimie Hurd drove to the basket, scored on a layup and was fouled by Sanquist. It was Sanquist's third foul, forcing her to the bench the rest of the quarter.
"Jaimie has a very fast first step," Howell said. "I think she did a really nice job all night of attacking the basket and forcing them to make plays."
Hurd finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Erickson had 10 points and five steals, while Hageman had 15 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Newman went on an 8-2 run after Sanquist went to the bench and led 34-25 at the end of the quarter.
"Morgan's the biggest part of our offense," Fulton coach Jesse Abbott said. "The other girls did their best to fill in for her, but we couldn't set up our offense.
"I thought we did a better job in our offense the first half, but the second half we just couldn't get into the half-court set."
Sanquist had 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks for Fulton. Morgan Wierema added nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Star of the game: Hannah Erickson, Newman, 10 points, 5 steals, 1 block
Key performers: Morgan Sanquist, Fulton, 15 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks; Rachel Hageman, Newman, 15 points, 6 rebounds; Jaimie Hurd, Newman, 12 points, 7 rebounds
Up next: Class 2A Newman Regional championship, Newman vs. Riverdale, 7:30 p.m. Friday