By Pat Turner
District 28-6A is down to three games and the playoff picture is shaping up.
Going down the final stretch, Clark (26-2, 14-1) leads the league and Brandeis (23-3, 13-2) sits in second, followed by O’Connor (22-7, 12-3) and Stevens (17-11, 10-5). In addition, Brennan (17-11, 9-6) and Holmes (18-9, 8-7) also remain in the hunt.
Brandeis has been on a tear the during the second half. In addition to keeping their title hopes alive with a win over Clark the previous week, the Broncos took over second place with a 53-49 victory over O’Connor. Brandeis then followed with a 49-35 win over Holmes.
“We’ve really built up our chemistry,” senior Claire Hale said. “We’re moving the ball. We’ve been working a lot on patience. That has really helped us. We pick each other up.”
Brandeis showed that unity during their back-and-forth bout with O’Connor.
“We reminded them it is a game of runs,” Brandeis coach Jennifer Brewer said. “We told them they had to keep their heads. It was a matter of keeping our heads and finishing strong. I was really proud of how we finished against a very tough team.”
The Panthers shot out a 13-5 lead with 3-pointers from Carleigh Wenzel and Christina Adenerian.
Brandeis sliced O’Connor’s advantage to 13-9 at the end of the first with baskets from Kaia Herrera, who scored seven of the Broncos’ points in the frame.
More big plays came from Brandeis in the second period. This time, Hale, who totaled 15 points and eight rebounds, hit the ignition button, nailing two 3-pointers and adding another score off a put-back for a 20-13 lead.
Nicole Hemphill (10 points, nine rebounds), Adenerian and Shannon Bowden pushed O’Connor back in front, 23-22, but Adriana Villa swished a three in the final minute for a 25-23 lead.
Another three from Wenzel (17 points) and a bucket and three-point play from Juliana Tapa put O’Connor at a 39-35 advantage toward the end of the third quarter.
Once again, Brandeis pulled within two on free throws from Villa, setting the tone for a wild finish.
Brandeis sprang into action with Sophia Haberer’s shot in the paint and Villa’s layup off a defensive rebound by Alexis Parker, who followed with a three-point play for a 44-39 lead.
However, Hemphill got O’Connor charged up with two free throws and a pair of turnaround jumpers for a 45-44 advantage.
Brandeis recovered quickly.
Freshman Marissa Seaton’s only shot attempt of the game turned out to be a go-ahead three (47-45).
After Wenzel tied the score at 47-all with a drive underneath following a Brandeis turnover, Hale came back with two free throws to put the Broncos back in front. O’Connor appeared to have another go-ahead bucket, but a three-point attempt wiggled out of the basket and into the hands of the Broncos, who finished with a goal and free throw from Parker and another freebie by Hale.
“We knew O’Connor was going to score,” Hale said. “When they went ahead, we had to make sure we kept our composure. I think that helped us. We tried to take the best shots for us and move the ball forward. On defense we focused on not making stupid fouls. We were able to do much better on the boards. The shot by Marissa was perfect timing. It was well-needed.”
Brandeis took control of the contest much quicker against Holmes by strolling to a 33-9 halftime lead. Hale was on her game again, pouring in 23 points, with Herrera and Villa adding their contributions.
Clark kept a solid grasp on the top spot with a 73-20 whipping of Stevens and a 60-45 thumping of Brennan.
The Cougars blew open the Stevens contest with a 49-8 charge in the first half. Ta’Niya Jackson led Clark with 19 points, with Rachel Lee (12 points), Sydney Solitaire (12 points) and Cassie Bell (10 points) also getting highly-involved in the scoring.
Clark had a tougher time against Brennan as the Cougars needed timely work to squeeze out a 23-21 halftime lead.
Alani Fluker (13 points) and Carrington Jones (11 points) had the Bears rocking but Clark had its punch once again from Lee (15 points), Jackson (14 points) and Bell (12 points).
The Cougars showed more of their strength in the second half. After increasing their lead to 39-33 in the third period, Clark pulled away in the fourth quarter with a 21-point burst.
The Panthers didn’t dwell on their loss to Brandeis.
A few days later, O’Connor was back in the win column with a 75-54 win over Marshall.
The contest didn’t start out favorably for the Panthers as Aunna Pollock, who put in 17 points, and Kayla Baynes (11 points) sparked the Rams to a 34-32 halftime lead.
O’Connor overcame that deficit quickly in the third period by cooling down Marshall’s offense, allowing seven points. In addition to getting turnovers and controlling the boards, Bowden (21 points), Hemphill (19 points) and Wenzel (11 points) triggered a 23-point burst for a 55-41 lead.
Speaking of overcoming tough losses, Stevens did the same as the Falcons overcame their blitzing from Clark with a 66-41 smacking of Jay.
The offense that was missing in action against Clark came to life immediately with the highlight being a 32-point output from Destiny Jenkins. T’Kiya Smith popped in 16 points and Kyrstin Castaneda helped out with 12.
A 57-37 win over Marshall earlier in the week enabled Brennan to hold onto its playoff hopes.
Maia Woodson led the Bears with 10 points.
The loss to Brandeis didn’t help Holmes’ cause, but the Huskies are still alive thanks to an earlier 53-38 win over Taft.
A big part of Holmes’ success came on defense while zipping to a 24-10 halftime lead. Alissa Martinez (12 points) and Lanay Wheaton (11 points) led the offense.
Holmes needs to run the table and get outside help to qualify the post-season, but whatever happens coach Gerald McCaslin believes the Huskies have made major strides this season.
“The girls haven’t given up,” McCaslin said. “I try to keep them motivated. They know they can play with these tops teams. It’s just a matter of letting it all go and not worrying about anything. They’re learning how to finish games.”
Harlan (21-8, 11-2) is closing in on a District 28-5A title during its inaugural varsity season.
The league-leading Hawks stayed ahead of Medina Valley (22-12, 10-3) with a 50-44 win over Southside and 69-34 ripping of Uvalde.
Harlan got a major boost in the first period by putting up a 21-7 advantage. However, the Hawks were unable to relax as Southside cut into the deficit the final three quarters.
Despite Southside’s effort, Harlan held on with strong defensive play and the combination of Jenay Henry, who mixed in 15 points with 10 rebounds, and Jaisa Morris (12 points, 14 boards).
Defense paved the way for Harlan against Uvalde that included holding the Coyotes to a point in the second quarter.
Morris led Harlan with 14 points and Hannah Gallegos added 12 points.
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