By Pat Turner
Clark enjoyed a successful run to the District 28-6A girls basketball title.
Now, the Cougars are keeping the pace in the playoffs.
After hammering out a 57-31 opening win over Johnson, Clark advanced to round three with a 63-56 victory over Smithson Valley.
Now, an opportunity to play in the Region IV Tournament is present. Clark tries to secure its reservation with a meeting against Steele in Tuesday’s regional quarterfinals at Northside Gym.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” Clark coach Rihana Houy said. “I’m so proud of this team for maintaining their focus throughout the season and remaining humble. We’ve had different girls step up and that is huge. Everyone is bringing something to the table.”
The Cougars (31-2) exploded quickly against Johnson, storming to a 24-2 lead in the first period and extending the margin to 37-6 at halftime. Much of the spark came from Ta’Niya Jackson, who poured in 17 points, Sydney Solitaire and Kendall Young, who had 10 points and eight rebounds.
That convincing victory was the ideal way to begin the playoffs as far a building confidence goes.
“It was a great way to start,” Young said. “We feel confident in each other. A lot of us have been playing together a long time and that helps. We want to keep working hard and stay humble.”
Clark, which committed eight turnovers in the first period, eventually got it into a smoother flow. Jackson set up a bucket for Cassie Bell and turned a steal into a layup for Rachel Lee, who followed that score with a three-point play.
After Solitaire’s three brought Clark within 15-14, Clark ended the period with an 18-15 lead after Jackson’s drive in the paint and a layup by Solitaire off a steal.
Jackson got the Cougars rolling in the second period, scoring 10 of her 25 points in the frame for a 35-26 advantage.
Jackson made the most of her speed during that span and the remaining quarters. She had success with her jump shots but was equally effective driving the paint.
“We kept our heads up after we got behind,” Jackson said. “We played defense. We knew we could run with this team. We started making our shots and playing Clark basketball. I wanted to get my teammates involved. I knew I had to bring energy and play my game.My shooting wasn’t going well for me, so driving was there for me.”
Clark shot to a double-digit lead (40-28) early in the third period, but Smithson Valley found its 3-point touch again and nailed four to close within 42-40.
The Cougars maintained its lead. Clark continued to rely on defense, while having success scoring in the paint.
A big defensive play came from Kayla Harris in the fourth quarter. Clinging to a 51-47 lead, Jackson popped in two free throws and Harris followed with a blocked shot and a three-point play.
That gave the Cougars enough breathing room to finish strong.
“We were a little sluggish early,” Houy said. “(Smithson Valley) hit some threes on us and we weren’t happy with our defense. We made some adjustments. We were able to run the floor. We didn’t have the shooting night we normally have, so we had to rely on our drives.”
District 28-6A’s other three representatives and Harlan of 28-5A didn’t fare as well.
Brandeis (27-4) and O’Connor (26-9) advanced to the area round rather convincingly. Brandeis pounded out a 53-26 win over Reagan and O’Connor used a second-half surge for a 62-40 win over MacArthur.
Brandeis squeezed out a 13-11 first-quarter lead but then came the dominance. The Broncos relied on the rebounding-shooting combination of Claire Hale (13 points), Alexis Parker (11 points), Ariana Villa (11 points) and Sophia Haberer (10 points), while holding the Rattlers to 15 points the final three quarters.
The scoring consistency left Brandeis and O’Connor the next outings.
In a 60-44 loss to Austin Westlake, the Broncos’ downfall came in the second period.
Westlake had to work for an 11-9 first-quarter lead, but the Chaparrals got a huge boost by holding Brandeis to four points in building a 27-13 halftime advantage.
Brandeis showed more scoring spark in the final two quarters, but the deficit was too steep to overcome.
O’Connor got into trouble quickly against Judson as the Rockets leaped o a 10-4 lead in the first period and went on to register a 55-36 win.
Stevens (18-14), which gained the fourth playoff spot on the final day of the season, started strong in its bi-district match with Churchill, building a 29-28 lead behind the scoring of T’Kiya Smith, who finished with 17 points, and Destiny Jenkins (12 points).
The Chargers took command in the second half, erupting for 35 points while turning up the defensive intensity.
After claiming the District 28-5A championship during its first year of varsity competition, Harlan was looking for more success in the playoffs.
Sam Houston spoiled the Hawks’ plans by registering a 48-44 overtime bi-district win.
Harlan was behind much of the contest but stayed within reach. Nicole Nash and Jaisa Morris, who both put in 13 points, helped the Hawks send the game into overtime after tying the score at 39-39.