Harvard-Westlake girls basketball comes together to beat Notre Dame and win CIF regional championship

Harvard-Westlake’s Deana Thompson makes a move to the hoop against Notre Dame in the CIF SoCal Regional Division II final March 5, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Harvard-Westlake’s Oyinkan Iriafen fights for rebound against Amia Witt and Raegan Davis of Notre Dame in the CIF SoCal Regional Division II final March 5, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Harvard-Westlake’s Jamie Yue and Amia Witt of Notre Dame battle for a loose ball during the CIF SoCal Regional Division II final March 5, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Harvard-Westlake’s Jamie Yue drives to he basket against Notre Dame in the CIF SoCal Regional Division II final March 5, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Harvard-Westlake players celebrate as they defeat Notre Dame in the CIF SoCal Regional Division II final March 5, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Harvard-Westlake’s Angelina Habis controls the ball against Notre Dame in the CIF SoCal Regional Division II final March 5, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

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STUDIO CITY — Harvard-Westlake girls basketball finally achieved a .500 record on Tuesday night in a championship manner.

The Wolverines beat fellow Mission League team Notre Dame 50-38 in the CIF Southern California Division II Regional championship to move their record to 18-18. More importantly, they secured their first appearance in a CIF State championship game since 2010.

Harvard-Westlake will play the winner of the Northern California regional final game — between Colfax and Pleasant Valley — on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

“With all our injuries, today is the first day we’ve had everybody back,” Harvard-Westlake coach Melissa Hearlihy said. “What I love is that different kids are doing great things on different nights and I think that’s how you win championships.”

Valentina Guerrero scored 15 points for Harvard-Westlake in her first game back since Jan. 16 when she broke her nose in a game against Chaminade. She got her nose reset and played Tuesday wearing a plastic protective mask.

“I wanted to get back out there so badly,” Guerrero said. “This game felt so good to come back. I just came in like OK, how can I help my team and how can we get this win and still follow the game plan?”

Notre Dame’s Natalie Trujillo tied the game at 8-all on a layup with three seconds remaining in the opening quarter, but the Wolverines defense and tough rebounding kept the Knights from fully settling in.

Harvard-Westlake used a 12-0 scoring run in the second quarter to launch itself ahead of Notre Dame (22-14). Guerrero drove through the lane for a layup to put the Wolverines up by 10 points with three minutes to go until halftime, then Madison Gillett followed up with a 3-pointer to complete the run for a 26-13 advantage.

After the break, Notre Dame’s Natalie Villamor made two straight 3-pointers and closed the gap to 26-21.

Villamor made four 3s in the second half to finish with 12 points. Amia Witt also scored 12 points for Notre Dame.

The Knights put together an eight-point scoring run later in the third quarter, but Harvard-Westlake was able to pull away on a jumper and 3-pointer by Angelina Habis.

The Wolverines were aggressive on the boards and maintained a defensive press throughout the game.

“Off the court, it’s all conditioning,” Guerrero said. “But it’s also not letting your mind know that you’re tired and just keep pushing.”

Guerrero said that she feels her team fully locked in defensively once playoffs came, although Hearlihy preaches defense all through the season.

“They’re finally starting to buy in,” Hearlihy said. “Nobody wants to play defense. It’s not sexy, but it wins games, right?”

Five Harvard-Westlake players scored five or more points — including Deana Thompson’s 10 points — in the Wolverines’ and Knights’ third meeting of the season.

The history between the coaches goes back even further than that, though. First-year Notre Dame head coach Jena Laolagi was Hearlihy’s middle school coach at one point and the two have developed a friendship over the years.

“You hate anybody to lose when you’re good friends,” Hearlihy said. “I’m so proud of her to take this team and to come in at her first year of being in this position and the kids bought in and they’re a great group of girls.”

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