By Ryan Menzie
For The Signal
In a matchup of strong defenses, the Valencia Vikings’ hard nose for the ball and collapse of the paint overwhelmed the Hart Indians on Tuesday in the last week of the season. The Vikings need one more win to secure a share of the league title in a girls basketball season that most were unsure would even start.
The Vikings were all over the ball, forcing 10 turnovers in the first half alone, but the Indians did not give up so easily. The Indians were led by junior center Kayla Hourigan who finished with a strong double-double with 14 rebounds to go along with her game-high 25 points. Hourigan accounted for all 11 points for Hart in the first quarter and 15 of 17 points in the first half.
“They have senior key players … they have a good coach and they are tough to go against,” said Hart coach Jerry Mike. “We fought, we’ll be back and we got everybody coming back pretty much and we’re not satisfied with the effort, but we’ll get better, we’ll keep going. They are well-coached and they get good shots.”
With the focus all on Hourigan, the Vikings were able to swarm the paint to force turnovers throughout the game. Momentum was stopped for Hart while the Vikings continued to create opportunities off fast-break steals and strong work on the glass.
Senior Night brought out the best of the Viking seniors, shooting guard Mailey Ballard and point guard Marissa Howell, who led the team to the 19-point win. Howell controlled the tempo of the game, finishing with 14 points to go along with her playmaking ability to get teammates open as well as crucial steals to keep Hart off the scoreboard.
“It was senior night so we just wanted to come out and have fun but also come out with the win,” said Howell. “Hopefully this isn’t our last home game as we look to make a strong run towards the playoffs and play at home.”
Ballard was scoreless in the first half but went hot in the second half, scoring all 20 of her points including four 3-pointers in the third quarter alone. No matter who was guarding her, she was given the green light to shoot as the shots kept dropping for her.
“You know I wanted to be there for my team. I felt like I left them down in the first half and I wanted to come out and have a good overall team win,” said Ballard. “We’re really grateful to have a season this year and to be able to play at home means a lot, especially as seniors after such an uncertain year, we’re excited to finish off league and hopefully make a run in the playoffs.”
Both teams look to carry momentum into the final game of their seasons Friday and hope it will continue over into the playoffs and next season.
Vikings head coach Kevin Honaker said he could not be more proud of his team.
“We had a great mental focus knowing this was a big night for the seniors and had a great practice last night,” said Honaker. “We want to have a strong night Friday night obviously and I think we have the makings of a good team to make a strong run in the playoffs … I love (the seniors) … and they mean a lot to me.”