By Pat Turner
Clark came up short on its bid for a first-ever appearance in the Class 6A Girls State Basketball Tournament this past Saturday.
The Cougars’ hopes ended in a 71-44 Region IV finals loss to Judson at Alamo Convocation Center.
Clark (33-3), reaching the regional finals for the first time, came in on a high note after beginning the week with a 56-49 victory over Steele and following with a 64-40 hammering of Edinburg in Friday’s regional semifinals where Ta’Niya Jackson poured in 27 points.
The Cougars, however, couldn’t find the consistency that carried them to a District 28-6A championship and three playoff wins. Clark showed signs of breaking from its struggles with a couple runs, but Judson, which reached the 6A finals the past two years, fought off the rallies.
The Rockets vaulted to an 11-5 lead early in the first period, before Kayla Harris, Jackson and Cassie Bell’s buckets tied things up at 12-12.
Judson got cranking again and zoomed to a 31-18 lead, but another Clark rally followed. Jackson scored on three straight drives and Bell added two buckets off rebounds to bring the Cougars within 35-32.
Judson increased the advantage to 38-32 at the end of the half and took complete charge in the second period.
Although it was a rough way to end the playoffs, the Cougars still accomplished plenty during the program’s best season.
“This was incredibly special for all of us,” Clark coach Rihana Houy said. “There was some doubt after we lost (point guard) Jesse (Paz Y Puente), but we came together. They stayed focused and worked hard in practice. They made each other better.”
Clark, which also reached the Region IV finals in volleyball, went into the year full of determination after missing out on a district title the previous season.
Things came together quick, thanks to experience and a special bond. Jackson, who is headed to Incarnate Word, proved to be the spark with her swift shooting and defensive contributions. Good things also came inside from Bell, Harris and Kendall Young. Outside shooting was also a plus from Sydney Solitaire and Rachel Lee. In addition, freshman guard Hailey Adams’ all-around play came in handy.
The Cougars went into district play on a high note with the only setback coming to 28-6A foe Brandeis in the NISD Tournament.
Because of that early success, which included winning the Pharr Valley View Tournament, the Cougars went into district play highly optimistic.
“We had a lot of spark and passion,” Bell said. “We prided ourselves on defense. That was a big part of our game. We all played together. Going to the tournament (in Pharr) really helped us bond.”
The biggest challenge came during district play when Paz Y Puente was lost for the season with a knee injury. It was a tough blow, but the Cougars found a way to overcome the setback.
The Broncos topped Clark again in league play, but other than that it was smooth sailing.
“It was an amazing thing,” Bell said. “We had our bad times and good times. Losing Jessie was hard but playing for her was the biggest part. It was a big adjustment offensively, but we worked together.”
“It’s been amazing,” Jackson. “We knew coming in this year we were a good team, but we had to step it up. We knew we had the tools to get there. It was a blessing to play with this team.”