Defense wins championships and history has a way of repeating itself.
Whichever sports metaphor you choose to go with, both worked for Harrisburg in its 56-50 Class 2A Regional title win over West Frankfort Thursday night and Max Morris Gymnasium.
A change in defense for Harrisburg after the first quarter against a team the Bulldogs have seen four times this year, with three wins to boot, gave Harrisburg head coach Jake Stewart his second regional crown.
It will go down as a comeback for the ages for Harrisburg, who rallied from a nine-point first quarter deficit to tie the game at 31-all at halftime and after building a nine-point third quarter lead, the Bulldogs found themselves tied again at 50-all with 3:56 to play in the first quarter.
Down the stretch, Harrisburg got a basket from Matty Hawkins and the Bulldogs went 4-of-8 from the foul stripe for the victory
Hawkins was the difference maker for Harrisburg, as she returned from a two-game hiatus, to lead the Bulldogs in scoring with 20 points.
The 6-foot-2 junior center had 12 in the first half and was steady throughout, scoring eight in the second half, including eight in a key third quarter where Harrisburg outscored West Frankfort 17-8.
"That"s the difference," Stewart said., "I don"t know how many points she had, but she had 12 at halftime and she may not have had that many blocks tonight (four), but she changed a lot of shots and changed a lot of Morgan Griffith"s shots. Having her back, being a three year starter and being 6-2, was huge for us."
Griffith got West Frankfort off to a hot start, hitting her first six shots she saw and finished with 14 points as the Redbirds held a 23-19 first quarter lead.
From there, Harrisburg utilized a Box-And-One that bothered the senior guard, all night as she went scoreless in the second quarter and missed her next seven shots before finally scoring at the 6:18 mark in the third quarter.
"We saw Du Quoin do something like that (Tuesday night) and I really liked it, so we installed it Wednesday and you have to do something against a player like Griffith," Stewart added. "The first half, we gave (Cali) Wright too many points and if Griff is going to get hers, you have to shut everyone else down and I thought we did a good job of that in the second half."
Harrisburg"s Jessica Hopson was relentless on the 5-foot-10 senior guard that is headed for Missouri S&T, shutting her down for the better part of a quarter and a half.
"Jess is our best defender, she"s tall and she understands the game," Stewart said. "She understood how to guard Griffith up at the free throw line and when she would cut down, Jess did a good job of denying her the ball."
Griffith closed out her career with a game-high 26 points, going 10-of-23 from the floor and 5-of-10 from the line, but after her first quarter effort, closed out the game, shooting 4-for-17 from the field.
"We"ve seen Box-And-One, Triangle-And-Two all year long," West Frankfort head coach Matt Hampleman said. "After you play someone for the third or fourth time, you start to get some tendencies down pretty well. I don"t know how much more we could have done to get her the basketball and we got her the ball in places she can score, it just didn"t happen a couple of times."
Harrisburg put two other players in double figures as Karsyn Davis finished with a double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Hopson had 14 points in the win for the Bulldogs.
Lotte Miller finished with five points.
Wright had 18 points for West Frankfort, while Megan Beery, Madison Freeman and Hailey Davis all had two points for the Redbirds.
Harrisburg advances to the Johnston City Sectional Tuesday night at 7 p.m., where they will play Nashville, who knocked off Greenville 42-40 at Sparta.
Michael Dann covers prep and college sports for the Harrisburg Daily Register and Eldorado Daily Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.