HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL

Cedar Park beats Pflugerville to clinch second straight district title

It's the first time in school history the Lady Timberwolves have won back-to-back titles

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Cedar Park saw the rankings at the beginning of the season. They clearly didn't pay attention.

The Lady Timberwolves beat Pflugerville 55-44 at home on Friday night to clinch the district championship for the second straight year, winning back-to-back titles for the first time in school history.

It was also the second time this season No. 7 Cedar Park beat the No. 15 Lady Panthers, who dropped down to Class 5A after making it to the regional semifinals as a Class 6A school a season ago.

"We were the clear second pick," Cedar Park head coach Donny Ott said. "Our kids just believed defensively that that's what we needed to do. I'm so happy for them. To stay perfect in two different districts, I'm unbelievably proud of these kids."

Junior Nicole Leff led the Cedar Park offense with 14 points. Senior Alex Maresca scored 13 points while sophomore Alisa Knight added eight points and freshman Shelby Hayes and junior Hanna Wheeler each finished with six points for the Lady Timberwolves.

In addition to leading the team in scoring, Leff did a little bit of everything on Friday, including running the point, shooting 3-pointers, grabbing rebounds and battling with Pflugerville senior and Florida State commit London Clarkson all game.

"I definitely love getting physical because it makes the game a lot easier because I'm not worried about everything else," Leff said. "For me, some people think I can only work out of the post. The last few months, I've really been expanding my game out to the 3-point line."

The junior scored just two points in the first quarter, but as the game went along and Cedar Park picked up momentum, she found her groove.

"Nicole Leff is the most unbelievable high school girls basketball player I have ever coached," Ott said. "She can score on all three levels and she can handle the ball. She's special. She can go overlooked because she shares the ball. She makes the best basketball play. She's transformed this team."

Cedar Park established its defensive dominance early in the first quarter. The only thing that helped Pflugerville stay within single digits was free throw shooting as the plethora of foul calls started early.

The Lady Timberwolves continued to dominate the rebounding game and held the Lady Panthers to just seven points in the second quarter. The games slowed down in the third quarter but somehow stayed just as intense.

Pflugerville made its run midway through the fourth quarter. The Lady Panthers cut the lead to single digits, but Cedar Park did just enough offensively and his 8-of-16 free throws down the stretch to hold on for its 13th straight win.

"The game shifted in the second half and we had to adjust," Ott said. "We told them in the locker room that there was going to be a run. I just told the kids to stay together. They did a great job of that."

For seniors Maresca, Pujita Shukla and Callie Copeland, Friday was the last time they'll play in the Cedar Park gym, a place they haven't lost a district game in two seasons. It was quite a way to go out.

"I know that when there's a hard game, there's an extra gear that kicks in and I was just going to do whatever for the team," Shukla said. "All day I was thinking about (playing my last game here, but I wouldn't talk about it."

Cedar Park finishes up the regular season on the road against Leander ISD rival Rouse, who clinched the third seed in District 17-5A with a win over Weiss on Friday night. The first round of the playoffs begin on either Feb. 11 or 12.

"We need to adjust to the game and just never give up," Leff said. "I love when someone is at the free throw line and we're just back there reviewing and making sure we know what we're doing. It's just fun to play with my friends."

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