The Hylton girls had motivation beyond continuing a two-game winning streak entering last night's game at Stonewall Jackson.

Coach Melvin Smith was making his first appearance with the team since his father passed away Jan. 3. The Bulldogs succeeded in making his return as pleasant as possible, defeating the host Raiders, 55-39.

"We wanted to help him sort of get over the loss and show what we've accomplished this last week," said Hylton sophomore guard Jennifer Rhodan, who led the team with 13 points and four steals.

What the Bulldogs (5-5, 3-1 in Cardinal District) have accomplished is put together their first three-game winning streak in Smith's two-year tenure. With wins last week over Osbourn and Osbourn Park, Hylton has exceeded last season's win total of three games.

"It feels good," Rhodan said of the streak. "A lot of teams have been doubting us, but we're a team to watch this season."

Hylton entered the season short on experience but long on energy. The Bulldogs' strategy this season has been to play up-tempo whenever possible. Although they continued that trend last night, the difference proved to be Hylton's inside game.

Hylton broke open the game with an 11-4 run to open the second quarter. After jump shots by Rhodan and sophomore Leilani Crumpton gave Hylton an 18-13 lead, 6-foot sophomore Starr Allen scored on an offensive rebound, and 6-1 sophomore Monique Mason added another offensive rebound and layup to open a 24-15 lead. The Bulldogs' inside players scored eight of the final 14 points of the half to help open a 32-18 lead.

"I wanted to pound it inside and give our big people a chance to bang around," said Smith, whose team drew 20 fouls on Stonewall. "They won the games without me, and I'm pleased. . . . We're a younger, faster and more energetic team than last year."

For Stonewall (4-5, 1-3), which has doubled fourth-year coach Ira DeGrood's total of two career victories entering this season, sophomore guard Tish Hogan--the district's leading scorer this season (17.3 point a game)--scored only two points and fouled out with 6 minutes 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter.