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FL girls hoops: Comets keep title hopes alive

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CARTHAGE — The Carthage girls basketball team always knows what it will get from Zakiya Saunders.

So leading up to Tuesday’s game against Indian River, which the Comets had to beat to keep their hopes alive for a fifth straight Frontier League “A” Division title, coach Randi Smith challenged junior Kayla Gonzalez to be the guard to step up and score.

Gonzalez proved to be up to the challenge.

Saunders led the way with 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Gonzalez scored a season-high 17 as Carthage jumped out to a big lead and never looked back in a 50-40 victory over Indian River at Carthage High School.

“Sometimes we tend to want to rely on ‘Z’ a little bit too much to do everything on the floor, but tonight Kayla Gonzalez stepped up big on the offensive end,” said Smith, whose team improved to 8-6 overall and 7-3 in league play.

“I had told her before the game, all week in practice, she was going to have to be the guard to step up and shoot the ball, and she got the open looks and she knocked them down,” Smith added.

The Warriors (10-4, 8-2), who would have clinched the division title with a victory, are now just a game up on the Comets with two league games left for each team.

Carthage still has to play Altmar-Parish-Williamstown and Immaculate Heart Central, while Indian River will play Watertown High and unbeaten South Jefferson.

“(The division) was something that was on our minds, but we were more worried about just winning and showing what kind of team we actually are,” Saunders said.

Indian River couldn’t recover from its poor first quarter. The Warriors trailed 13-1 at quarter’s end, and missed their first 13 shots from the field. They also went 1-for-6 from the free-throw line.

“We had some nice layup chances, and we missed (five) foul shots in the first quarter. We recently have just gotten ourselves in a hole and we haven’t been able to dig our way out of it,” Indian River coach Jim Whitley said.

Carthage avenged its 41-38 loss to Indian River on Nov. 30.

“When we first started, we were more of a young team. We were still kind of developing with each other and learning each other and trying to learn our own roles on the court,” Saunders said.

“We work better as a team now, and we didn’t make as many mistakes as we did the first time,” Gonzalez said.

The 50 points allowed was a season high for the Warriors. They gave up 47 points in a nonleague loss to Vernon-Verona-Sherrill on Saturday.

“You’re always in a game when you’re going to play defense, and we’ve just decided the last few games that we’re not going to do that,” Whitley said. “And when they start to do that, and we know that we can be a team that’s defense first, they’ll start winning again.”

Gonzalez added eight rebounds for Carthage, and Hannah Millich grabbed nine. Carthage’s guard trio of Saunders, Gonzalez and Millich grabbed 32 of the team’s season-best 37 rebounds.

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