By Pat Turner
Harlan can officially say that’s a wrap in District 28-5A girls’ basketball.
Clark is one win from doing the same in 28-6A.
Harlan (23-8, 13-2) wrapped up the 28-5A crown this past week during its first season of varsity play. Terry Barton’s Hawks began by pulling out a 55-50 win over Medina Valley and following with a 55-42 thumping of Southwest Legacy.
It’s been an impressive climb for the Hawks, who have shown balanced scoring and aggressive defense throughout their title run.
That was the case during the clinching, beginning with the Medina Valley contest.
Medina Valley grabbed a 10-9 advantage in the first period, but the Hawks revved up their defense in the second quarter, holding the Panthers to seven points. In addition, the offense started clicking, zooming to a 26-17 advantage.
Medina Valley stayed within striking distance, but the Hawks held on with more timely shooting and defense. Hannah Gallegos delivered a well-rounded performance, scoring 10 points while adding five steals and three assists.
Jaisa Morris helped with 14 points and Jenay Henry contributed with 11.
The scoring balance carried over into the Legacy contest as Henry poured in 18 points and Gallegos added 16.
Clark clinched a tie for the 28-6A title with a 42-40 win over O’Connor and a 55-44 victory over Holmes. The Cougars can wrap things up by topping Warren in this week’s regular season finale.
The bout with Clark was a major lift as the Cougars needed late heroics from Sydney Solitaire, who nailed four 3-pointers in the second half, including the game-winner, and Ta’Niya Jackson, who finished 11 points and came up with much-needed rebounds and steals.
“This year has really been exciting,” Jackson said. “Last year we were tied with O’Connor and it was kind of a bumpy road for us. This year we have an opportunity to do something and it feels amazing.”
Relying on the combination of Nicole Hemphill, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, Carleigh Wenzel (11 points, eight rebounds), Shannon Bowden and Juliana Tapia, the Panthers charged to a 30-21 halftime lead.
Clark, however, remained calm and began whittling away at the deficit the final two frames.
“We were not going to lose this game,” Jackson said. “I felt that. We are passionate. I knew we could win this. We had to play with passion and stay positive. We had to play with our heart and play our game.”
However, it got worse before becoming better as O’Connor shot out to a 36-24 lead midway through the third period on a turn-around jumper by Hemphill and a 3-pointer and rebound shot by Wenzel.
Clark closed the gap to 36-29 at the end of the period and caught fire at the beginning of the fourth.
Solitaire, who totaled 16 points, popped in a three and Jackson followed with two layups to tie the score at 36-36. Minutes a later, Solitaire came up with a steal and zipped a pass to Jackson, who nailed a three to put Clark at a 39-37 advantage with 3:10 remaining.
Hemphill countered with her inside skills to put O’Connor back in front with a three-point play.
Down 40-39 lead, Clark missed a scoring opportunity but got another chance in the final minute when Hailey Adams hauled down a defensive rebound.
The Cougars moved the ball downcourt and got the ball to Solitaire, who swished in the winning three with 16.3 seconds remaining.
“I was feeling good,” Solitaire said. “When I feel it, I just feel it. I was excited about the last one. I was thinking I need to win this for my team. It was a big win for us.
“We knew we had to put our heart and passion into it. We have worked so hard this season and we didn’t want to lose it.”
Clark also has a tough bout with Holmes (19-10, 9-8) but the Cougars prevailed again with more of the same tactics.
After building a 27-20 halftime lead, the Cougars maintained the upper hand with Jackson playing a big role with her scoring (15 points), rebounding and defensive contributions. Cassie Bell’s 16 points was also a factor.
Brandeis (25-3, 15-2) had another productive week, topping Warren (57-25) and Jay (57-43).
The Broncos had their share of highlights. The inside game was stout in both games behind the combination of Sophia Haberer, who scored 18 points against Warren, Alexis Parker and Claire Hale.
Brandeis also received strong contributions from Kaia Herrera and Ariana Villa.
The Panthers finished their week on an explosive note with a 72-56 win over Brennan.
Wenzel was a force one again, scoring 26 points while controlling the boards with Hemphill, who put in 11 points.
Bowden (16 points) and Christina Adenerian (10 points) did their part to complete the performance.
Although Clark, Brandeis and O’Connor have claimed the top three playoff spots, the fourth is up for grabs between Stevens (18-12, 11-6) and Brennan (17-13, 10-7).
Despite dropping a 59-40 decision to Brennan, Stevens goes into the final game sitting in fourth place following a 55-40 victory over Taft.
Stevens needs a win over O’Connor to seal the deal. Brennan faces Holmes in its finale. If the two teams end up tied for fourth the Bears would have the tie-breaker after sweeping the Falcons.
Brennan completed the sweep this past week with the scoring combo of Alani Fluker (17 points), Gina Steward (16 points) and Carrington Jones (13 points).
Stevens, however, rebounded from the loss and took over the fourth spot with its win over Taft.
In that contest, Jazmin Mitchell (24 points) and Destiny Jenkins (19 points) ignited the Falcons with their steady play.
For images from the games click here