Hart girls’ basketball beats Valencia  

Lily Cornejo (21) of Hart steals the ball from Valencia defender Libby Oxciano (23) in the fourth quarter at Hart on Friday, 011124. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Hot starts have been a recurring theme for Hart Indians girls’ basketball as of late. 

Another hot first quarter powered the Indians to victory on Friday as the team won its home league matchup with the Valencia Vikings, 74-53. 

Hart coach Jerry Mike saw his team come out with some solid ball movement and big 3-point shooting 

“Lately we’ve come out kind of hot,” Mike told The Signal in a phone interview. “We move the ball around and of course hitting shots is the key. It’s not always the case, but we’ll take it whenever we can get it.” 

Hart junior Morgan Mack led all scorers with 21 points but also made her presence felt on defense and grabbing rebounds. The Indians got a huge boost from sharpshooters Andrea Aina and Lily Cornejo. The two finished with 16 points each, mostly coming from the 3-point line, where the two rained in shots on the Vikings to help pull away in the first half. Aina hit five 3-pointers on the night while Cornejo knocked down four. 

Andrea Aina (40) of Hart shoots a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter against Valencia at Hart on Friday, 011124. Dan Watson/The Signal

Valencia surged back into the game in the third quarter but couldn’t cut the deficit to single digits. Vikes coach Jared Honig believed his team executed the game plan better in the second half after a lackluster opening two quarters. 

“I felt like we didn’t come out strong enough and didn’t execute our game plan of limiting their 3-pointers. In the first half, Andrea and Lily hit a few threes to push the lead up early. Our defense didn’t put up enough resistance on the inside. Mack got some easy points there.” 

Senior Libby Oxciano led Valencia with 19 points, with five 3-pointers of her own, before fouling out in the fourth quarter. 

“That was totally challenging. Oxciano was hot in the first half,” Mike said. “It was one of her better games that I’ve seen. She was solid throughout, shot looked great, she was aggressive, she was great throughout the game.” 

Oxciano was vital per usual for the Vikings along with sophomore Cara McKell, who added 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Freshman Keira McLaughlin also created problems in the post, where she racked up the bulk of her 16 points and nine rebounds. 

Lily Cornejo (21) of Hart and Valencia defender Keira McLaughlin (13) fight for a loose ball at Hart on Friday, 011124. Dan Watson/The Signal

“A lot of our game plan was around McKell, she does everything,” Mike said. “She’s going to be so good. She’s strong, she can drive, rebound, shoot and go get it. Zach (Koebel) and I were really impressed with her. It takes a lot of effort and multiple players to slow her down. McLaughlin, she’s just a freshman and she played a great game too.” 

Honig believes one of the biggest plays of the day was sophomore Amelia Carson taking a big charge in the third quarter, which helped the team cut Hart’s lead to 12. 

Carson finished with four points, two steals and a block.  

The two teams finished the second half with an even 30-30 scoring. Mike didn’t think his team lost interest at all and thought the game could’ve come down to the final minutes if not for Hart’s hot start. 

Caqra McKell (32) of Valencia shoots against Hart defender Morgan Mack (13) of Hart in the first quarter at Hart on Friday, 011124. Dan Watson/The Signal

“I was definitely proud of our team in the second half,” Honig said. “You can do all you can battling back or just lay down and extend the lead. When we play the right way and execute the game plan, we can hang with anybody.” 

Hart remains the last unbeaten team in the Foothill League and the championship is seemingly the Indians’ to lose. Hart will still need to win a few more games before clinching the league title. The Indians are now winners of six straight. 

Should Hart win another league title, the team’s season will carry on in the Division 1 playoffs, something Mike believes his girls are ready for. 

“Oh yeah, we’re a Division 1 team,” Mike said. “We don’t have the size of a lot of Division 1 teams but we have the skill. The camaraderie is off the charts with this group. It’s really a tight group, they get along well. They’re really close and happy to be around each other. I sense they’re getting some momentum.” 

Valencia heads to Saugus on Tuesday, while Hart’s bye keeps the Indians out of action until Friday when the team heads to Golden Valley. Both games tip off at 5 p.m. 

Morgan Mack (13) of Hart shoots against Valencia defender Cara McKell (32) at Hart on Friday, 011124. Dan Watson/The Signal

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