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PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Clark has the moves, and Murrieta Valley nets a second consecutive crown

03/04/2013, 2:36pm PST
By By LANDON NEGRI lnegri@californian.com

TEMECULA — Katie Clark's move to the left had been all right all night.

TEMECULA — Katie Clark's move to the left had been all right all night.

On the game's biggest possession, the Murrieta Valley High senior went there one more time — and struck gold.

Clark punctuated a championship-caliber performance by hitting a go-ahead, 14-foot jumper with 48 seconds remaining Thursday night as Murrieta Valley's girls basketball team upended host Chaparral, 51-48, and won the outright Southwestern League championship in both teams' regular-season finale.

As she has done all season, the senior point guard led the Nighthawks. She scored 20 points, and her final-minute basket helped Murrieta Valley (21-5, 9-1) down the taller Pumas (18-8, 7-3) to avenge their only league loss — 42-31 to Chaparral on Jan. 24.

"It means the world," Clark said. "Honestly, we knew it would be a battle, and every game was so tough. Chaparral is a great team, and it was a great game tonight. But it's great to be champs and not co-champs."

Clark took over in the final quarter of a see-saw battle that saw the Nighthawks lead by as much as 10 points in the first half, but also saw Chaparral rally to take its own lead in the third quarter.

The teams were tied at 48 when Clark stepped to the left of a screen teammate Brenda Bilton set on Chaparral's Ashtyn Kendrick at the top of the key. She stopped and popped the jumper for the 50-48 lead, and the Nighthawks held on down the stretch after an ensuing Pumas turnover.

"I felt pressure ... but I knew that if I missed, my teammates would be there for the rebounds," Clark said, "because we had been getting the boards during the night and competing with them, even though they're a lot bigger than us."

Chaparral's 6-foot, 3-inch senior Jessica Pino, who is signed to go to UC Santa Barbara, tied Clark for the game high with 20 points. But in the final quarter, the Pumas went to 6-2 freshman center Kali Jones. who had six points and three rebounds in the frame, including three of the Pumas' final four field goals.

Pumas senior Abby Johnston finished with eight points and 11 rebounds, but coach Mike Pino lamented a shooting performance which saw a host of good looks wasted and a final percentage of 32.6 percent (17-of-52).

"We missed some easy buckets, and we had our opportunities to win this game," he said. "We didn't take advantage of our opportunities."

Murrieta Valley shot 44 pecent (20-for-45), Clark added four steals and five assists to her 20 points, and junior center Karen Wolf added 10 points and 10 rebounds as she fought Pino, Johnston and Jones for boards.

The Nighthawks were surprise league winners last year and advanced to the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals. They didn't surprise anyone this year, but that didn't make things any less sweeter for coach Scott Richards' club.

"This feels great," he said. "A lot of teams might've come in and said, 'We're at least co-champs. But my girls really wanted this game."

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