Screams could be heard outside the Canyon High School gym on Tuesday after yet another missed free throw.
Hart sophomore Morgan Mack poured in game-highs with 17 points and eight rebounds, but missed the potential game-tying free throws with just seconds left in overtime. Mack intentionally missed the second attempt in hopes of an offensive rebound but was called for a lane violation. Canyon inbounded the ball with less than two seconds on the clock but time expired with the same scenario as the start of the game, with players on the floor, fighting for the ball.
“Hart is great, they’re skilled, but I think we were more physical tonight,” said Cowboys head coach Jessica Haayer. “We’re little so we have no choice but to be physical. “I think we showed that it was like the first possession of the game when someone was on the floor.”
Canyon dealt Hart its first league loss of the year to even the series as well as the Foothill League championship race, after winning the game, 54-52.
Hart (24-3, 10-1) rallied ahead in the second quarter with a 11-2 run, but Canyon (17-7, 10-1) kept chipping away. The Cowboys rallied just behind senior Jade Sims, scoring eight of her 14 points to cut the deficit to four going into halftime.
Canyon needed scoring from unlikely places as reigning league MVP Aaliyah Garcia dealt with double teams all night. The Cowboys combatted the aggressive defense with two high screens on nearly every play and it paid. Lanes and shooters were left open, including senior Katherine Garcia, who racked up 12 points and seven rebounds.
“Ever since I transferred to Canyon, this is the game we’ve been preparing for,” Katherine said. “It all comes down to who really wants it in the end. We had our home crowd to keep our heads up, our teammates and everyone who’s been there for the ride. It was such a memorable game. I don’t think we’re going to forget this anytime soon.”
Katherine fit the bill and played physical defense throughout the game before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
Both teams exchanged blows in the fourth quarter.
Hart senior Laney Grider found her rhythm and led the team through the grinding quarter before Mack made the game-saving layup that’d eventually send the Indians into overtime.
Grider finished her night with 14 points, three assists and two steals.
The Cowboys had some time on their last possession of the fourth quarter but Hart center Vanessa Zavala saved the day for her team. Zavala swatted a potential game-winning shot from Sims, registering her third block of the night. The Life Pacific University commit finished with six points and as many rebounds.
Mack missed two free throws to start overtime but made up for it on the next possession with a transition score.
Canyon junior Koko Booker then powered her team to the finish in overtime. Booker scored her only points of the night on a huge 3-pointer to take a 50-49 lead.
“Offensively, the worst thing you can do is not take that shot because you feel like it’s not going to fall in,” Katherine said. “You have to believe that your teammates are always going to have your back and that’s what we believed coming into this game.”
The junior’s effort on a loose ball then led to another Cowboy score as Booker tipped the ball to teammate Josie Regez for an easy lay-in. Regez is a natural guard and one of the team’s sharpshooters but has been asked to do more as she’s one of the tallest players on the team.
“Our coach has been saying we’ve got to rebound more,” Regez said. “We’re outmatched height-wise. I mean, I’m playing the two guard and I’m one of the tallest people on the team. So, I think when we bring that toughness and we just say we can out-physical them. It doesn’t matter how big they are and it doesn’t matter how strong they are; we wanted it more.”
Regez led Canyon with 16 points.
The physical game came down to free throws and the MVP sunk two go-ahead free throws to take the final lead, 54-52, before Mack’s misses.
History repeated itself as Canyon and Hart split games this season just like last year.
“Of course you’re upset with that loss but I didn’t think it was the end of the world,” Haayer said. “I knew we’d see them here. My kids like to play at home. It’s a different vibe and the energy was unreal. These are the moments they’ll remember. We’re not going to remember the score, but you’re going to remember all the people in the stands rooting for you.”
The Cowboys were outright league champs last season after Valencia upset the Indians late in the season. Hart will have one more game this season and of course, it’s against the Vikings.
Both teams return home to host games on Friday at 5 p.m. with Canyon hosting Saugus while Valencia heads to Hart.
Canyon and Hart will have a chance to be co-champions but both will have tough games to close out the regular season before heading into the Division 2AA playoffs, where they could meet a third time. Time will tell if the two will get a round three but a crucial CIF postseason game could come down to another physical battle with a plethora of free throws.