Knight freshman shoots lights out

PALMDALE – Tuesday’s tilt between Knight and Palmdale high schools had all the makings of an instant Golden League classic.

In the first league matchup of the season between the two teams, the final score was separated by only five points, and the Falcons had some motivation going into the game being just one game behind the Hawks in the standings.

But Knight had other ideas.

With run after run, the Hawks (14-10, 9-5 GL) pummelled the Falcons (13-11, 7-6 GL) 57-38 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests.

“We just had a mental breakdown with each other, the team,” Palmdale head coach Selina Gonzales said. “It was just a mental breakdown.”

Knight freshman guard Keyna Hadley scored a game-high 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting off the bench, while junior forward Cierra Steemer added 10 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots.

The Hawks jumped out to a 6-1 lead before Palmdale’s Am-Unique Williams scored the Falcons’ first field goal of the game with 3:14 left in the first quarter. Then Hadley got hot and ran off eight straight points to give Knight a 15-3 lead.

Palmdale continued to struggle in the second quarter, only scoring four points in eight minutes. The Hawks went on an 11-0 run to close the quarter and take a 35-9 into halftime.

After an impassioned halftime meeting in which Gonzales challenged her team’s effort, the Falcons took the floor in the third quarter ready to prove they wanted to fight. But the Hawks scored the first nine points of the quarter and were led once again by Hadley, who scored half of Knight’s points in the quarter.

“Keyna tonight did everything you would ask a senior to do, and she’s only a freshman,” Hawks co-head coach Shawn Johnson said. “It’s nice when you got a kid that does exactly what you ask her to do.”

Palmdale finally got going in the fourth quarter, outscoring Knight 20-6. But the outcome had already been determined by then.

Gonzales said her players told her at halftime that they would show her they’d pick things up on the defensive end. The team did just that, which led to its improved play in the fourth quarter, she said.

“If they played like they did in the second half, it would’ve been another close game,” Gonzales said.

Hadley said better shooting was one of the reasons Knight played well on Tuesday. Johnson concurred, saying that Knight shot 1 of 19 from 3-point range in its previous game against Palmdale and that the Hawks missed seven or eight open layups the first time around.

“I think that our defense was a lot better and we hustled more and we made our layups,” Hadley said. “Last time, we had a difficult time making layups.”

Palmdale’s Dharma Mitchell led the Falcons with 11 points, while three different players had seven.

Knight will play a road game against Quartz Hill on Thursday, while Palmdale will face Antelope Valley at home on Thursday.