Hart girls basketball stays unbeaten in Foothill League behind Morgan Mack’s fine-tuned defense

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SAUGUS — Hart’s Morgan Mack has always loved basketball. She grew up competing with her older brother, a former linebacker at Chaminade who’s now playing in college, and was influenced by her 6-foot-4 dad who played basketball at Northern Arizona University.

“It’s always been in my blood,” Mack said. “I just loved playing basketball, since I was a little kid.”

Now a junior, Mack has refined her basketball abilities and her love for the game burns in front of college scouts. San Diego State was at Hart’s 69-53 win over Saugus on Friday night, and Mack also holds offers from Cal State Northridge and North Carolina A&T.

Her defense, particularly, was on full display on Friday and is something she’s put more effort to since her underclassman years.

Saugus’ Bri Burroughs stole the ball and drove to the net midway through the second frame, but Mack leapt up for a block that swiftly stopped the Centurions.

“It’s a little more attention to detail in terms of stance and vision and more active hands, things like that,” Hart coach Jerry Mike said. “She’s always been a tough defender. I think she’s a little more in tune to little things.”

Hart used calculated defense to gain a 12-0 advantage with four minutes left on the clock in the first quarter. The Indians were comfortable from the perimeter and under the net, and Mack was at the ready to snatch a steal when the opportunity arose.

While Mack secured the ball, her teammates let it fly. Lily Cornejo sank a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give Hart a 26-8 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Four different Hart players made a 3-pointer in the game. Andrea Aina made five 3’s — including one from the volleyball line — to lead the team with 19 points.

“I tell them to keep shooting,” Mack said. “No matter if you’re missing, keep shooting it. It’s gonna go in. Not to worry about the missing. It’s exciting, I love it.”

Mack ended the game with 16 points and Lily Cornejo scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers. Arleigh Eav added 10 points, using confident ball handling to hustle her way to the paint.

The Centurions outworked Hart in the third and fourth quarters, outscoring their opponent 18-15 in the third quarter and 20-14 in the final frame.

Eva Rios hit a buzzer-beating 3 to bring the score to 40-15 at halftime.

Later on, Saugus’ Destiny Onovo, one of just two seniors on the team, scored on a putback to cut the score to 55-33 in the third quarter. She contributed 18 points to lead Saugus.

“We’re a pretty intense team,” Onovo said. “No one wants to lose ever. We believed in ourselves the whole time so we came out with intensity and started hitting our shots and layups.”

Both Saugus and Hart will take a break from Foothill League play until the new year as part of a unique schedule that splits the league schedule into two segments.

Hart and Canyon are the two unbeaten teams in the Foothill League after the Cowboys beat Golden Valley 60-30 on Friday. The two frontrunners will play each other on Jan. 9 and then in the league finale on Feb. 2.

“Watch out for Hart,” Mack said. “I feel like we were a lot of underdogs this year, but watch out for Hart. We’re making a name for ourselves this year.”

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