Hart girls return to CIF final, top San Juan Hills, 68-65 

Hart teammates Laney Grider (4), Lily Cornejo (21) and Morgan Mack (13) celebrate their win over Valencia High at Hart High on Friday, 020223. Dan Watson/The Signal

Indians set to face top-seeded La Salle in championship game on Saturday 

For the first time since 2006, Hart girls’ basketball is heading to the CIF Southern Section championship game. 

The Indians (28-3) took down the San Juan Hills Stallions (25-6), 68-65, on Saturday in San Juan Capistrano in the Division 2AA section semifinals to mark their return. 

“They played good and we fought back, and it could have gone either way,” Hart head coach Jerry Mike said. “It was an absolute proper semi, a two-seed and a three-seed, and it was a proper semifinal. We had to give it everything we had to pull it out in the end.” 

Hart sophomore Morgan Mack scored nearly half of the points for the Indians, putting up 30. Mike said that Mack was a consistent presence on the offensive end, culminating in her short-range jumper and two free throws to put Hart up for good at the end. 

“She was just consistently good the whole game, and it wasn’t like she was lighting it up left and right, but I think she just kept staying with it,” Mike said. “She hit a couple of big threes and made some plays down the stretch.” 

Hart guard Morgan Mack (13) goes for a floater in a game earlier this season. Chris Torres/The Signal

Hart will now face the La Salle Lancers (28-3) in the Southern Section championship game next Saturday at a site and time to be determined. La Salle took down Redondo Union on Saturday, 46-36. 

San Juan Hills isn’t done, either, with all four semifinal teams guaranteed a spot in the CIF state tournament. 

Hart senior Laney Grider had 16 points in Saturday’s game, all in the second half. Senior Elyse Mitchell contributed 12 points and senior Vanessa Zavala had 10 points. 

Hart trailed by 13 points at one point before Mike said his team began to move the ball better and create better scoring opportunities. One of the bigger changes the Indians made was being able to work around the press that the Stallions were bringing, sometimes even full-court. 

“They like to full-court and three-quarter court press, and it bothered us and we got caught in corners,” Mike said. “But then we got we got the ball moving a little bit and stretched it out and we were able to get some better shots and good angle shots, off the glass.” 

The Indians also had to deal with a loud playoff atmosphere on the road. Mike said that both schools had energetic cheering sections, which forced him to start using hand signals to call plays, something he had prepared his team to be ready for in the practices leading up to Saturday. 

“It was so loud in there. It was fun,” Mike said. “Our cheerleaders came along and they were loud. Both sections were loud. We had to use hand signals to communicate defensive changes and set plays. You couldn’t really call a play. It was just too loud.” 

Hart was ready for that environment, though, especially after having to battle until the end to match Canyon for the Foothill League title. 

Hart now has a week to prepare for the Southern Section final. Mike knows it won’t come easy, as La Salle was the team that knocked Hart out of the section playoffs last season in the semifinals, 49-43. 

The Indians are 3-3 overall in section finals, including a win in their last appearance in 2006. Mike is hopeful that his team can lift the trophy as he looks to join a couple of CIF champion Hart head coaches in Dave Munroe and Pamela Walker. 

“I’m totally stoked to be in their company in terms of getting to the finals,” Mike said, “because Pam hired me and Dave was my mentor for five years starting out. I consider him a great coach, but I just want to do my best for my team and get my girls ready. 

“It’s a privilege to be in a final as a Hart coach because those two coaches mean a lot to me. I’m excited to get my team prepared.” 

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