By Pat Turner
It’s way too early to be celebrating district championships but the quick starts are serving as confidence boosters, especially after this past week.
Clark (16-1, 4-0) avenged a loss to Brandeis in the finals of the NISD Tournament with a 60-53 victory over the Broncos, before finishing the week with a 78-43 win over Marshall.
“We had a better game this time against Brandeis,” said Ta’Niya Jackson, who scored 16 points against Brandeis and nine in the Marshall victory. “We played better defense. We stayed strong as a team. We’re not letting anything negative get into our heads. We’re staying positive. We know we have each other.”
Clark came out firing in the first period against Brandeis and Rachel Lee provided a major spark, pouring in 11 points in the Cougars’ building of an 18-11 lead.
Lee, who had 20-point outings in both contests last week, kept the Cougars going in the second period with two 3-pointers. In the meantime, Clark took charge of the boards with the rebounding of Kendall Young, who finished with 10 rebounds and Cassie Bell.
That effort enabled Clark to stretch its lead to 33-20, before Brandeis finished the half with a bucket.
Clark soared to a 42-22 lead midway through the third quarter following Paz Y Puente’s pass that set up a 3-pointer for Lee, and back-to-back buckets by Jackson.
After closing the deficit to 45-37, the Broncos began the fourth quarter by pulling within 48-43 on threes from Claire Hale and Villa.
Clark finished strong. Madeline Gomez nailed a 3-pointer on a pass from Young to up the lead to 54-45. Brandeis made it a five-point contest once again following shots from Villa and Alexis Parker-Guzman.
Clark then played keep away from Brandeis by passing the ball around the court. During that time, Jackson came through in the clutch, canning four free throws and turning a steal into a layup.
“I wanted to win,” Jackson said. “I had the mentality I had to make those shots.”
O’Connor hammered out a 54-26 win over Jay with Nicole Hemphill (17 points, 10 rebounds), Shannon Bowden (10 points, eight rebounds) and Carleigh Wenzel (14 points, nine rebounds).
Taft (7-10, 1-3) was a different story.
The Raiders controlled the tempo in the first half behind the work of Maya Bell, who finished with 12 points, and Kayla White (10 points).
Taft sprang to a 27-20 lead, but O’Connor ended the half on a high note when Bowden popped in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the Raiders’ lead to 27-23.
That was the springboard O’Connor needed for the second half.
O’Connor started hitting shots more consistently, but the biggest difference came on defense as the Panthers held Taft to 11 points.
Hemphill, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, was a major force on the boards along with Wenzel.
“It was definitely our defense,” Hemphill said. “We were playing more as a team. At halftime we talked about playing together and rebounding. We played much better.”
Brandeis bounced back from its loss to Clark by rallying for a 46-42 win over Brennan (10-7, 3-1).
The Bears, who began their week with a 55-46 win over Taft, carried a 34-32 lead into the final quarter after sharp shooting from Anyssa Anderson, who totaled 10 points, and Alani Fluker.
Hale, who finished with 21 points, ignited Brandeis’ comeback with her shooting and rebounding.
Stevens (10-7, 3-1) appears to be finding its groove. After opening district play with a loss to Brandeis, the Falcons have reeled off three straight wins, including this past week’s 55-43 win over Marshall and 50-26 victory over Warren.
Destiny Jenkins led the Falcons with 19 points, while Jade Mitchell and Kyristin Castaneda knocked in 12 points.
Stevens also used a second-half surge against Warren. Holding a 24-16 halftime lead, the Falcons became more aggressive on defense in holding the Warriors to 10 points. At the same time, Stevens received more scoring balance.
Jazmin Mitchell and Amanda Holmes paced the Falcons with 13 points.
“We’re still working” Stevens first-year coach Kathleen Moroney said. “We’re starting to do some good things. We have to be more consistent.”
Holmes (12-4, 2-2) also turned the tables this past week with victories over Warren (48-21) and Jay (42-27).
The Huskies’ defense stole the show against Warren, holding the Warriors to four points in the second half, that consisted of pitching a shutout in the fourth quarter.
Lanay Wheaten poured in 15 points and Alissa Martinez controlled the boards with 10 rebounds while chipping in seven points.
Holmes started strong against Jay, vaulting to a 16-6 halftime lead. The Mustangs, relying on the shooting of Bridget Berry and Alicea Persephone, cut the deficit to 24-20 going into the fourth quarter.
However, Wheaten, who scored 23 points, ignited an 18-point burst in the final eight minutes.
Harlan made its District 28-5A debut this past Friday with an impressive introduction.
The Hawks (10-6, 1-0), competing in their first year at the varsity level, claimed a 41-26 win over Eagle Pass Winn.
Hannah Gallegos guided the Hawks with 16 points. A 10-point performance came from Jaisa Morris.
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