By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The La Salle Lancers (25-2, 8-0) are heading to the Division 3AA CIF Southern Section finals after their playoff road win over Hart (21-7, 8-2).
La Salle was led by Ryann Riddle with a game-high 14 points and four rebounds. Riddle would also face the challenge of containing Hart’s high-scoring center, Kayla Hourigan.
Hart defeated the Lancers earlier in the year in another tight battle, but both games made it clear that these teams are on the same level.
The opening quarter was tight, with La Salle making it clear Hourigan would get nothing easy.
The senior was shadowed all game in the post by Riddle. The Hart center didn’t get the ball easily but didn’t waste her few opportunities in the first half. Hourigan had averaged 27.5 points in her last two playoff games but finished Wednesday night with eight points and nine rebounds.
“We should’ve done a better job getting Kayla in scoring positions,” said Hart head coach Jerry Mike. “That one’s on me more than the players. I didn’t do a good enough job.”
La Salle would hold the lead going into the second quarter, but great defense turned to quick offense for Hart. The Indians sparked, outscoring the Lancers 13-5 before going into the halftime break.
Elyse Mitchell registered some good minutes in the first half. The junior turned the ball over just after checking into the game but kept her head up, scoring seven of her nine points in the first half.
“We we’re sluggish to start,” said Mike. “Looked like we were tentative.”
La Salle turned it up a notch in the third quarter, giving Hart’s passes little to no room for error. Although the Indians passed well, they had their share of lazy passes picked off by the Lancers.
“Today was not our best game offensively and it showed,” said Hourigan.
The visiting team also managed to close the gap, matching their first-half score in the third quarter with 16 points, keeping them just behind Hart. Eventually, their defense turned into easy offense and La Salle started to pull away in the fourth quarter.
The Lancers had some chances to put the Indians in serious trouble, but missed multiple layups. Guard Audrey Chen got a wild layup to land and the game was nearly iced with about a minute to go. The sophomore, who led the Lancers in scoring this year, finished with 12 points and three rebounds.
Junior Laney Grider responded immediately for Hart with a drive to the basket, getting the and-one to bring the Indians within four.
Grider led Hart with 13 points along with two assists and two steals.
The Indians had to foul and Chen iced the game, hitting both free throws.
Grider got a couple of 3-pointers off at the end of regulation, but just couldn’t find her mark.
Hart freshman Morgan Mack was instant offense for the Indians throughout the game. Her driving and defense helped her register seven points with a steal and a block.
Although it was not the result they wanted, the Indians’ season is not over yet. Both teams knew going into Wednesday night they qualified for the state tournament, giving Mike’s team something more to play for.
“We started the season practicing on the blacktop because we weren’t allowed in the gym,” said Hourigan about the beginning of the year. “Seeing our hard work pay off, even though obviously we didn’t win, is a really good feeling. It’s not luck we’re here, it’s definitely our hard work.”