Ranked Apaches squeeze out win
AREA TEAMS INCLUDED: Highlands.
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Sometimes teams draw a spark from one player doing something differently.
Highlands junior Aaliyah Prince perked up her Owls teammates Tuesday by suddenly blocking shots, some of which officials didn’t give her credit for. Prince’s efforts disrupted Antonian’s disciplined offense and helped the Owls (8-6) assemble an 11-3 run after the Apaches threatened to put their lead out of reach early in the second quarter.
Antonian (7-2), No. 10 in the Express-News area rankings, had to hang on for a 55-54 win at Highlands’ gym.
“The key for her was getting blocks on defense,” Highlands coach Adrianna Wiatrek said. “We made a switch to a zone at the end of the second quarter. Our big girls (Susana Stephens, Jordan Brown and Monique Jackson) came in and did their job. They challenged (Antonian) in the paint. Aaliyah’s big when she forces turnovers.
“I give a lot of credit to the girls in the paint. They allowed Aaliyah and Jaz(mine Jackson) to fly around.”
Antonian led 33-24 and built a 12-point lead midway through the third quarter. Highlands was forcing turnovers with its halfcourt trap defense, but couldn’t capitalize on them.
“We’ve been behind at halftime,” Highlands senior forward Emily Pearce said. “We’ve been down by 10 points but we’ve been able to rally and come back. We did that in the (Jaguar Classic) tournament last weekend against Austin High.”
Jazmine Jackson (16 points) and Kiara Pesina combined to make three of four free throws and bring the Owls within 10 points with 1:08 left in the quarter. Andrea Valerio, a senior transfer from Colorado, and Stephens provided baskets in the final minute.
A driving layup off an assist from Pearce and a rebound basket from Jackson finished the run with Highlands trailing 41-37 about 1 ½ minutes into the last quarter.
“Free throws are our enemy,” Wiatrek said. “We missed 16 tonight and we missed 20 in our first game against Jay. In the first quarter tonight, we couldn’t knock down even the easy baskets.”
Jackson provided back-to-back baskets again with 1:48 to play, bringing Highlands within 51-49. Following a free throw from Antonian’s Brittany Parker (14 points), the Owls scored four points in a possession.
The junior made a post-up basket and drew a foul. Jackson missed the foul shot, but Prince (14 points) scored off the rebound. Highlands led 53-51.
“Everything has been clicking together,” Pearce said. “Most of us have been playing together since last year. Everybody is coming together. I think this is our year. Defensively, offensively and in terms of chemistry, everything has gotten a lot better.”
Alina Hilliard (8 points) hit a jumper from the right side to tie it and Parker converted a one-and-one to restore a 55-53 edge for the Apaches. Pesina sank a free throw with 39.5 seconds, but Jackson was unable to score on a layup with 8.9 seconds.
Nonetheless, it was a solid follow-up to Highlands’ runner-up finish at the Jaguar Classic Nov. 22.
“We had a great tournament, until the last game,” Wiatrek said. “We got to the last game, and we just shut down. But, to get there, we beat Floresville, which is a pretty legitimate team. We were down against Austin High, and we had to fight back.
“We hadn’t done that before (this year).”
The Owls clearly learned the formula from that game and applied it at the right time against Antonian.
Highlands will open its District 28-5A season Tuesday with a 6:30 p.m. game against Jefferson (1-9) at Alamo Convocation Center.
“We’re getting there,” Wiatrek said. “We’re still not where we need to be, but we’re going in the right direction. We have a lot of weapons to hurt you on offense.”