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 Hart Indians girls’ basketball came up with its biggest win of the year on Friday.  

The Indians bested the visiting Valencia Vikings to win the program’s first Foothill League title in 15 years. Hart will be co-champions with Canyon as the two have emerged as dangerous contenders in the CIF Division 2AA race. 

Indian teammates Morgan Mack and Laney Grider led the way with 16-point nights in the 53-37 win over the Vikings.  

It meant a little more for Mack to come out and play well, as the sophomore was down after missing some overtime free throws on Tuesday. Mack exited Friday’s contest early and limped off the floor with an injury. However, she returned to the floor in the second quarter, and when Mack’s team needed her most, the sophomore delivered. 

“I was kind of down on myself after that,” Mack said, “but the team lifted me up. Everybody lifted me up. So, I’m glad we came out here and we’re able to win. We’re going to celebrate tonight and then keep moving forward.” 

Valencia (16-10, 7-5) kept it close throughout the first half. Leading scorer Libertine Oxciano was held scoreless until the second quarter but found other ways to help her team succeed. Oxciano’s first bucket tied the game at 16-16, but Hart registered a 25-22 lead at halftime. 

The Indians’ message was clear at halftime: Get after it on defense. 

Hart (24-3, 11-1) held Valencia scoreless for over six straight minutes in the third quarter, leading to a 14-0 Indian run. 

“The second half, everybody was getting involved offensively,” Hart coach Jerry Mike said. “Our defensive pressure up top on the guards was really good. They’re a pretty strong rebounding team and I was really worried about that. But I thought we were strong on the boards and our guard defense up top was outstanding in the second half.” 

Grider led the way on defense with nine rebounds and six steals, in her final regular-season game at Hart. 

Laney Grider (4) of Hart shoots against Valencia High defender Hailey McKell (33) at Hart High on Friday, 020223. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Hart defense was a familiar one for Valencia head coach Kevin Honaker, who spent years coaching alongside Mike at Valencia. 

“They ran the defense that we know,” Honaker said. “Jerry and I worked on it together over the years. It’s a combo defense, it’s effective and they took our two best players out of the game.” 

Vanessa Zavala also played well in her regular season finale. Zavala racked up seven points, five boards and three blocks. 

Hart defender Vanessa Zavala (33) goes up to block a shot by Peyton Motoyasu of Valencia High at Hart High on Friday, 020223. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Vikings were led by freshman Cara McKell, who tallied 13 points, nine rebounds and a pair of steals.  

Honaker is still confident heading into the postseason. The team’s defense has carried it through tough games when the offense goes cold. The Vikings utilized a fast and physical 2-3 zone on Friday, where the team rotated quickly and forced Hart into some tough shots. 

“I think it’s an exciting time for the girls,” Honaker said. “It’s always a fun time to get to go and play new teams that we don’t get to see very often. And have a chance to have fun and go far in CIF. So I think the girls obviously probably aren’t that thrilled right now. But let’s hope come Monday, after the weekend off, they’re excited for the postseason.” 

Hart is ready for another playoff run. The bulk of the Indian roster is filled with returners from last year’s squad that reached the CIF semifinals and lost to the eventual champion La Salle Lancers. 

The Indians finish the season as the top-ranked team in D2AA, just ahead of La Salle. Hart and the Vikings find out their postseason journey on Sunday, when the CIF releases its playoff brackets.  

“I like what we have and what we can do,” Mike said. “We can mix it up in a lot of different ways. I think we’re as good as anybody in our division. The division is really strong. It’s a good eight to 10 teams in terms of who can win it. But we’ll just go one at a time. We’re gonna have to dig in and we’ll continue to work on our defense.” 

Arleigh Eav (2) of Hart shoots against Valencia defenders Hailey McKell (33) and Libertine Oxciano (23) at Hart High on Friday, 020223. Dan Watson/The Signal