HANFORD — Led by senior Kate McClard and junior Sapphire Jones, Hanford pushed the pace, forced turnovers and ran away with a 63-27 victory over West Yosemite League rival Redwood on Tuesday night.

After an uncharacteristic 0-4 start to the season, Hanford trailed only once in its home opener and sent a message to the rest of the league.

“This first WYL game is the most important game of the year for us,” Hanford coach Doug Pitkin said. “It just sets the tone for league.”

The teams have finished first and second or tied for first the last three years in league, so the magnitude of the win could not be understated.

Hanford (1-4, 1-0 WYL) struggled to get going at first with a couple easy missed shots and lackadaisical turnovers. The ever-present nerves of a home opener were apparent, but Bullpups star McClard quickly took command of the team.

Back-to-back running jumpers by McClard opened up a 9-4 lead and forced Redwood to call a timeout with 3:45 to go in the first quarter.

The short break seemed counterintuitive since after a defensive stop, McClard swished away a 3-pointer. She came off a screen on the next possession for a clean look and knocked down another shot from long distance to go on her own 10-0 run.

The first quarter ended with Hanford leading 17-4 and looking in control after an iffy first couple minutes. McClard scored all 10 of her points in just under four minutes.

“Last time we played, we were really, really stagnant,” McClard said. “This game, I felt we had a lot more movement and better passes. Like we knew where a girl was going to be.”

The start of the second quarter saw Jones come alive with an explosive pace. She attacked the rim and pushed the ball up the court. One of her three assists on the night found forward Jill Shipp for the open layup.

Jones said the screens set by her teammates allowed her to get free and move up the court. The team began to cut a lot more and make some pinpoint passes, which helped with the flow of the game, Jones added.

At the 5:42 mark in the second, McClard was called for her third personal foul. Pitkin had her sit and then with 2:47 left in the half, Jones was called for a charge and picked up her third foul. With Pitkin’s two best players on the bench, he was about to find out what the rest of his team was made of.

Redwood (2-4, 0-1 WYL) scored to make it 23-15 and bring the game back to within single digits. Instead of folding, guard Nyomi Solis banked in a 3-pointer to push the lead back to double digits. The Rangers responded with their own 3-pointer, but Hanford scored once more before halftime to lead 28-18.

“Our young girls really stepped up and played well,” Pitkin said. “Everyone who got on the floor contributed to our success, so even when [McClard and Jones] had to sit out, we held it together without them.”

The 28 halftime points were the most they had scored in the first half this season and the 18 points were the least they had allowed all year. And as good as Hanford was in the first half, they were nearly perfect in the third quarter.

Jones immediately got to the cup for an easy basket not even 20 seconds into the second half. The Hanford defense then forced a shot clock violation on Redwood’s next possession.

Jones completed a 3-point play to push the lead to 17 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. Defense took over and didn’t allow the Rangers a clean look in the third or fourth quarter.

Hanford employed traps or made smart strips and had a hand up every time Redwood shot. The turnovers and missed shots led to transition points with McClard operating the offense. She either drove and created her own shot or found a teammate after drawing the defense.

The Bullpups outscored Redwood 17-2 in the third quarter and led 45-20 entering the fourth quarter. The Rangers were never able to find a rhythm in the second half and were outscored 18-7 in the fourth.

“Defensive discipline led to our transition game,” Pitkin said. “Defensively, we did a great job containing the threats and that led to breakout points for us.”

Jones finished with a game- and season-high 16 points, including nine in the third, and added three assists, three rebounds and a block. McClard had an all-around excellent game with 15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Five games into the season, McClard is leading her team by averaging a double-double with 14.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Jones is averaging 11.3 and 4.3 rebounds points per game.

The two know they have a lot to shoulder after losing their leading scorer from the 2016-2017 season, Janelle Sumilong, who averaged 22.3 points per game.

“Kate McClard was extraordinary. She gets everything started for us,” Pitkin said. “[Jones] had some explosive moments for us. When [Jones] is on the floor with Kate, we’re pretty darn good.”

The blowout win couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bullpups. Not only did they end their four-game losing streak, but their first victory of the season comes as a league win. The 63 points were far and away the most they’ve scored in a game this season and conversely, the 27 points allowed was the best so far.

Hanford was held below 40 points only once all of last year and this season, it had already been done twice to them. Their two other games weren’t any better, consisting of 40 and 44 points. To say the team’s offense was struggling would be an understatement. But sometimes one game is all it takes to get back on track and this might be just what they needed.

The team is young with four freshman and three sophomores, but they’re steadily learning how to play with one another and adjusting to the big stage of high school varsity basketball.

The Bullpups will now face some stiff competition in the Madera tournament which runs from Wednesday to Saturday. They have the Santa Barbara tournament and the Tulare Showcase lined up after that. These next few weeks will be a good measuring stick to see where the girls stand.

Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or ngarcia@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.

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