TULARE — The Bullpups were ready for the big moment.
Down five entering the fourth quarter, Hanford rallied in the final eight minutes with clutch baskets from all around to engrave their name on the 2017 Tulare Mid-Winter Showcase Invitational championship trophy with a 64-61 victory over Bakersfield.
“That was the most composure I’ve seen my young girls play with,” Hanford coach Doug Pitkin said. “Fortunately, we got a girl like Kate [McClard] who controls the floor from tip to buzzer. It allowed the rest of us to kind of settle in.”
Apart from Kate McClard’s double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds — both team-highs — she was named tournament MVP for her efforts. The senior guard finished the Showcase averaging 19.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game.
McClard seemed to always deliver in the clutch and never showed an ounce of hesitation when it came to stepping up in the big moment.
“It’s cool,” an always-humble McClard said. “It’s awesome.”
Hanford guards Sapphire Jones and Alyssa Chapman were named to the All-Tournament team for their performances as well.
The Bullpups faced Bakersfield in their second game of the season and were walloped 58-40. Things would be different this time around.
Hanford (10-7, 1-0 WYL) trailed 45-40 entering the fourth and had just relinquished a 14-point lead in the third quarter. It was the first time they had trailed all game long, but there was no panic in the team — just focus.
The Bullpups tied the game on a layup by Naykimra Wright with 4:19 to go. It was her only bucket of the game, but a big one.
On the ensuing possession, Bullpups freshman Tinisha Edwards hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to give Hanford a 54-51 lead — their first lead since late in the third quarter. Edwards, who finished with 14 huge points, came back on the next possession and drove into the paint for a banking layup and five-point lead with three minutes to go.
The Drillers did not back down and tied the game again at 56-all with 2:04 left in the game. McClard delivered with a spin-around jumper in the paint for the lead.
McClard, who had two steals in the game, came up with the biggest one of the night on the other end of the court and gave the outlet pass to a streaking Jones. Jones missed the initial layup, but got her own rebound and putback for the 60-56 lead with under a minute to go.
After a Bakersfield layup, Pitkin called a timeout with 28.9 seconds to go, leading 60-58. McClard was fouled on the inbounding play and sank both free throws to re-establish a two-possession game. The Drillers missed their next shot and with it, their hopes of a comeback.
“Usually when teams come back with a lot of energy in the third quarter, they end up winning,” McClard said. “I’m glad we pulled it out and came back and got our head out of our butts.”
The Bullpups finished with a 4-0 record at the tournament with two blowouts and two tightly contested games to prove they can get it done when it matters. After starting 0-4 at the Redwood tournament and going 2-2 at the St. Joseph-Righetti tournament, Pitkin was more than happy with how his team performed.
“We played poorly, I coached poorly, nothing was going well,” Pitkin said. “Here, bigger girls, probably more athletic girls, and we held our own and took the victory, so this is a huge win for us.”
Winners of the tournament in 2013 and 2014, the Bullpups will add 2017 to the trophy and use the tournament as a launching pad for West Yosemite League play.
“It seems like we’re peaking at the right time stepping into league,” Pitkin said. “This is the first stepping stone for us.”
McClard may have closed the game, but it was Jones getting things started. She scored 20 points on the night and Hanford’s first 10 of the game. She drove to the basket and finished or got fouled and hit free throws in the first.
“I was just going with the flow,” Jones said.
Hanford led 15-10 heading into the second and then they found the range. McClard hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Edwards drained one from the corner for nine straight points. The Drillers were able to hit a 3-pointer right before the half to cut the lead to single digits 29-20.
The Bullpups were executing on the defensive end. There were no bad turnovers, shots were contested without fouling and the 2-3 zone made it difficult for Bakersfield to get inside despite their size advantage.
The third saw them stretch their lead to 14 points — their largest of the night — with a 5-0 run to start the quarter. Bakersfield immediately called a timeout.
The Drillers then went on an impressive 19-4 run to take their first lead of the game 39-38 with 1:28 left in the third. Their full-court press forced Hanford into some bad turnovers and Drillers shooting guard McKenna Hsiung caught fire.
Hsiung hit four 3-pointers and scored 18 points in the third, singlehandedly outscoring the Bullpups (11). She even banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put an exclamation mark on her incredible scoring display.
Hsiung finished with a game- and season-high 24 points, but it wasn’t enough.
The Bullpups already played Redwood in their WYL opener, but will really get into their league schedule starting today against Golden West (9-5, 1-0 WYL) at 7:30 p.m.