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The Team to Beat ... Still

Posted: January 23, 2008 2:46 a.m.
Updated: March 25, 2008 2:01 a.m.
It figures.

Just when it was beginning to feel safe to hand the Foothill League girls basketball championship away to someone new for a change, the six-time defending champs had to get greedy.
Underdogs in a league game for the first time since their seniors were in junior high, the Indians knocked off Saugus 52-51 Tuesday at Saugus to pull into a first-place tie at the midpoint.
Saugus was a runaway title favorite.
Now the Foothill League has a pair of them.
"We tell our girls the season doesn't get defined by how you play in November and December," said Hart first-year head coach Zach Koebel. "It's about January, February, March. It's how you play when it really counts and how you can improve and right now, we're proving we can play the kind of basketball we want to play."
Despite missing the front ends of one-and-ones at the free throw line in the final minute of the game to give Saugus a pulse, the Indians were able to dodge enough bullets to deliver the statement win.
Two Saugus attempts at game-winners in the final 10 seconds both were off the mark. Lauren Labat, who led all scorers with 21 points, missed a 3-pointer from the wing with three seconds left and Breann Wilson missed a top-of-the-key shot at the buzzer.
The Centurions' demise ultimately came well earlier.
Hart scored the game's first nine points, holding Saugus scoreless over the first four minutes, then pulled off the trick again to start the second half, starting the third quarter with 11 straight.
Out-scoring Hart (13-7, 4-1) by 19 in the other 16 minutes weren't enough for the Centurions, who are now 17-4 overall.
"That's where we lost the game," said Saugus head coach Eric Olsson. "We were scrappy and we fought back into it, but they beat us. They're the better team now. Hart proved it to us."
Megan Ford made things especially difficult.
The senior center led all Hart scorers with 20 points.
"We threw everything we could at her," Olsson said. "We tried everything but the kitchen sink and she still gets her 20."
Not that Saugus didn't make things interesting.
Scoreless for the first half of the first quarter, the Centurions responded with eight unanswered points to trail 11-8 after one. They came all the way back to take a second-quarter lead.
Despite Hart's 11-0 surge to start the third, Saugus trailed by just two heading into the fourth and was tied at 40 after a runner by Labat on the team's first possession of the final frame.
But just like Saugus didn't back down from either of Hart's runs to pull away, the Indians didn't back down from Saugus' either.
A banked 3-pointer from the top of the key by Brianna Fitchpatrick gave Hart a 50-45 lead with 2:32 remaining.
The lead stood heading into the final minute.
Then Hart's nightmare at the free throw line began.
Fitchpatrick missed with 58 seconds left and Saugus' Gabrielle Conn answered on the other end of the court with a 3-point play.
One possession game.
After a layup by Hart's Haley Hammond stretched Hart's lead to 52-48, Danielle Mofsowitz hit a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining and chipped the Indians' lead further to 52-51.
Saugus fouled Fitchpatrick again.
Again she missed the front end from the line.
"As far as I'm concerned we gave away six points," Koebel said. "We made things a little bit too interesting at the end there."
But Labat, who hit three 3-pointers in the contest, couldn't connect on an open look from downtown. After Kelli Lewis missed yet another free throw, Wilson's desperation shot off a length-of-the-floor pass from Labat hit nothing but backboard.
And suddenly there's a debate about the team to beat.
Saugus will look to get back on track with a tough test Friday against 3-2 Valencia, while Hart faces off with 1-4 Golden Valley.
Both teams will control their own destiny in the second half.
"We were the top dogs, now it's them," Olsson said. "We have to live with the fact that Hart was one-point better than us. They're the team to beat now, but this thing can still be in our hands."


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