PALMDALE — In any sport it’s hard to beat an opponent three times in the same season.
Especially on the road, in a hostile environment and with several factors at stake.
The Lancaster girls basketball team entered the game against Knight having all that on its mind. The trilogy between the Golden League powerhouses concluded with the league championship on the line.
Knight played its best game in the third meeting against the Eagles. Unfortunately, for the Hawks, so did Lancaster.
Last year at this same time the Eagles entered Knight’s gymnasium with a 13-0 record and were knocked off by the Hawks in the final game of the regular season, as the teams shared the title.
But not Friday, as Lancaster completed the sweep of Knight and with it earned the outright Golden League strap with a 49-35 victory to conclude the regular season, at Knight High School.
“I thought the girls played well. We knew coming in that Knight was going to be a tough opponent,” Lancaster coach Ashly McCullough said. “It was a crazy atmosphere and we just wanted to stay the course of the game and eventually pull away.”
The Eagles (22-5, 14-0) did that in the fourth quarter.
There were two key elements that changed the dynamic of the game: one 3-pointer by Sabrina Jeans followed by another by Vanessa Fletes. Those six consecutive points gave Lancaster a 38-27 lead to open the quarter and capped an 8-0 run as the Eagles began to create separation.
A 15-footer by Kenya Edelhart to close the third quarter gave the Eagles momentum entering the fourth just as the Hawks surged back into the game.
“Knight challenged us tonight, but we did not want to share the league title. We executed and came out and took care of business,” said Edelhart, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “We studied film on them and I’m just really proud of this team. We’re peaking at the right time.”
The Eagles defeated the Hawks (18-7, 12-2) in the championship game of the Lancaster Tournament, 46-23 on Nov. 17, and again on Jan. 15, 34-20. Both teams will learn their playoff fates on Sunday afternoon when CIF releases the playoff brackets.
“This was the best game we’ve played in the last three weeks. It’s disappointing not to win league, but I think if we play like we did tonight we have a good chance to win some playoff games,” Knight coach Danny Henderson said. “Lancaster should be commended because they hit shots at key moments in the game. I’m happy with our effort and with the way they executed.”
Much like the first two meetings, the first half was more of a feeling out process with neither team taking complete control. Lancaster’s first points of the second quarter came with 2:04 remaining in the second following a steal by Edelhart and the speedy guard sprinted up the court for an uncontested layup.
Both teams connected on only two field goals in the second quarter, but the Eagles maintained a slight lead and took a 19-13 lead into the locker room.
After Lancaster scored the first bucket of the second half, Knight’s Taylor Porchia, who finished with a game-high 19 points, scored four consecutive points to cut the lead to 21-17. Later in the quarter, the Hawks inched closer in front of the partisan crowd, after Jada Mims hit a conventional 3-point play to pull Knight to within one, 21-20, the closest it had been since the first quarter. Knight had its opportunities to take its first lead, however, the Eagles were able to keep it at bay.
“This is such a great feeling. We told them everything we did all year was for this moment,” McCullough said. “This year we didn’t want to share. Knight came out and played like we expected, but we dug deep and persevered.”
The Eagles’ Tamira Johnson put the icing on the season after she hit the old-fashioned 3-point play in the fourth quarter as the Hawks were trying to get back in the game.
“We played a really good game and I thought our defense was amazing. In the first quarter we came out with a lot of energy,” Porchia said. “This is not a bad loss for us because our heads are still up. We’re staying positive.”
The Hawks struggled at times to get back in the game as they finished 0-for-14 from 3-point range and shot 5-of-14 from the free-throw line.