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Clark charges past O’Connor to maintain 28-6A lead

January 31, 2019 GMT

Sydney Solitaire said it was the biggest shot of her life.

Her 3-pointer from the corner with 15 seconds remaining was the difference in Clark’s 42-40 victory over O’Connor on Wednesday night at Harlan Gym. It might be the shot that ends up securing the District 28-6A championship.

“When I shot it, I knew it was going in,” said Solitaire, a sophomore guard who entered the game averaging 4.9 points. “When it went in, my heart just jumped. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. That’s the winning shot.’”

Solitaire finished with a career-best 16 points. She helped lead a rally with four 3-pointers in the second half after the Cougars trailed 30-21 at halftime.

Third-ranked Clark (27-2 overall) maintained its one-game lead in the district standings by improving to 15-1 in 28-6A play. The Cougars lead second-ranked Brandeis (24-3, 14-2) — a 57-25 winner over Warren on Wednesday — with two games remaining in the regular season. Fifth-ranked O’Connor dropped to 22-8 and 12-4 and remained in third place.

Solitaire knocked in two 3-pointers in the third quarter as the Cougars trailed, 36-29, heading into the final quarter.

She opened the fourth with 3-pointer. Clark stepped up the defensive pressure and that ignited senior guard and Incarnate Word signee Ta’Niya Jackson, who scored seven of her 11 points in the fourth quarter. She had two baskets off steals. Her 3-pointer at the 3:12 mark of the fourth put Clark in the lead for the first time, 39-37.

“Our coach (Rihana Houy) told us to play with heart and play with passion, and that’s what we did,” Jackson said. “We felt that coming through the whole game. At first, we were kind of off, but then after that, we started speeding it up and played our game.”

After Jackson’s 3-pointer, O’Connor regained the lead when Nicole Hemphill was fouled while making a turnaround jumper in the lane. She made a free throw to complete the 3-point play and put the Panthers in the lead, 40-39, with 2:47 left.

The score stayed that way until the final moments. Jackson drove the lane and kicked it left to Solitaire, who was spotted up in the corner. She took the shot and swished it.

“I knew I needed to make it to help my team and help secure that first spot,” Solitaire said.

Clark yielded only 10 points and three field goals in the second half.

“It was mainly our defense,” Jackson said of her team’s play in the second half. “We told each other to stay positive and keep our heads up.”

O’Connor scored the game’s first seven points and led 15-9 after one quarter.

Hemphill, a senior forward, and Carleigh Wenzel, a freshman forward, did the most damage in the first half as they combined for 17 points.

Clark chipped away after Shannon Bowden gave O’Connor a 21-11 lead on a put-back at the 6:10 mark of the second quarter.

The Cougars answered with a 7-0 run capped by a 3-point play by Jackson with 4:22 remaining. O’Connor responded with a 9-3 run before halftime.

O’Connor opened the third quarter with a pair of baskets giving the Panthers their biggest lead, 34-21.

Clark began its comeback when Solitaire sank her first trey to pull the Cougars to within 10.

Hemphill finished with 15 points and Wenzel had 12.

The Cougars can clinch at least a share of the district title with a victory over Holmes on Saturday. Solitaire said there plenty of work ahead.

“The season is not over, and we’re going to have to work that much harder to keep it up,” Solitaire said.


Twitter: @hinojosa_david