OSWEGO – Hayven Harden has the unique ability to keep her pivot foot and change direction maneuvering through multiple defenders near the basket.
It helps that the 6-foot Downers Grove South junior possesses a 6-foot-7 wingspan. That craftiness, though, requires time that Harden has put in.
“I work on plyometrics boxes, jumping on one foot, and I work on my pivot a lot as a big,” Harden said. “I’ve learned my footwork as time has gone on. It helps a lot being really long so I can get around people if I keep my pivot.”
Harden’s hard work came in handy Monday.
She scored Downers Grove South’s first three baskets of the fourth quarter, two with a high degree of difficulty near the rim. The seventh-seeded Mustangs pulled away from what was a tie game through three quarters to beat ninth-seeded Oswego East 45-37 in a Class 4A Oswego East Regional semifinal.
Harden had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Allison Jarvis had 15 points and six steals and Megan Ganschow contributed six points and 15 rebounds for Downers Grove South (21-7), which advanced to face second-seeded Waubonsie Valley – a 67-43 winner over Oswego – in Thursday’s regional final. The Mustangs, co-champions of the West Suburban Gold, overcame an almost six-minute scoring drought in the second quarter with great toughness down the stretch.
Harden on a few occasions found herself almost losing her cool in a physical game that saw the Mustangs turn the ball over 19 times over the first three quarters. But she remained poised under pressure late.
Harden stepped through two Oswego East defenders for the first basket of the fourth quarter to make it 32-30 with 6:11 left. Later, with her path to the hoop seemingly blocked, she changed direction and sidestepped two defenders to make it 36-32 with 4:27 left.
Her length and athletic ability make difficult shots look easy, even if they’re not.
“It is hard, but I keep patient and keep calm so I don’t overreact,” Harden said. “I’m able to focus on one thing and not lose control of myself. I have a 6-foot-7 wingspan. I’m able to reach everywhere basically and jump high.”
Downers Grove South coach Lyndsie Long marvels at Harden’s creativity and athleticism navigating high traffic in the lane.
“She is unbelievable. The amount of work ethic she has and how much better she has got this season alone,” Long said. “She is long, she is athletic as heck and she knows how to keep her pivot. If you stop her one way, she’ll go the other way.”
The Mustangs struggled with Oswego East’s full-court pressure for stretches throughout the game, but their superior length and size came to the forefront late. Downers Grove South had seven offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter while turning it over only three times and won the rebounding battle 34-22. It allowed the Mustangs to overcome Oswego East’s 18-14 halftime lead and a four-point second quarter in which Downers Grove South’s lone scoring was four free throws.
“We were definitely timid to start, shaking in our boots a little bit. The second quarter, especially, we kind of fell apart,” Long said. “I told them in a timeout we have to win the rebounding war and stop turning the ball over. I told them do that and we’re in good shape.”
The Mustangs got a big second half from Jarvis, 11 of her 15 points to go with a couple of key steals. Downers Grove South never trailed again after Jarvis’ 3-pointer with 1:43 left in the third quarter.
“She knows she’s a senior,” Long said. “I think it registered with her that this is my last crack at it, let’s go.”
Maggie Lewandowski had 14 points and three steals and Aubrey Lamberti had nine points and nine rebounds for Oswego East (17-13). Lewandowski’s off-balance runner with 2:40 left in the third quarter gave the Wolves their last lead at 26-24.
While the Wolves at times took Downers Grove South out of its rhythm with their pressure, they could not overcome a 24.6% (13 of 53) shooting night with several misses near the basket.
“Some shots weren’t going in where usually they go in close to the hoop,” Oswego East coach Abe Carretto said. “We needed some more transition buckets on their misses. That would have helped. We did get some but not as many as I would have hoped for.”
Still, Carretto couldn’t feel too down about a team that won 17 games and a Southwest Prairie West league championship and returns four of its five starters next season.
“Can’t take that away from them,” Carretto said. “A lot of good things for the future the next two years. It’s just tough when shots aren’t falling.”