Loggers rally to clinch the Big 5 outright

They had to endure a nervy finish, but the Eureka Loggers achieved the first of their team goals for the season on Thursday night, defeating the Panthers in five sets at McKinleyville High to clinch the Big 5 championship outright.

The Loggers came into the week a perfect 6-0 in league play and having already secured a share of their first Big 5 title in more than 10 years.

But the same team that lost just four sets combined in its opening six games, dropped five of them over the final two games, including a five-set loss to Arcata on Tuesday.

On Thursday, however, with their backs to the wall, the Eureka girls answered the call, pulling out the win (16-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-12, 17-15) in dramatic circumstances, and overcoming some adversity to do so.

The Loggers dropped the opening set and then trailed 2-1 after three.

Midway through the fourth set, however, they came alive again, pulling out a game-saving 13-point win.

And that’s when things got interesting.

The home team led throughout much of the final set, before a late Loggers rally saw them close a 10-14 deficit on the way to sealing the championship-clinching victory.

“We got the win, but not without struggles,” Eureka head coach Rachel Evans said. 

Some late controversy appeared to spur on the Eureka girls, after a couple of questionable calls went against them.

An experienced Loggers lineup, however, appeared to use the controversial calls as motivation instead of a distraction, with Makaila Napoleon driving home two power-driven kills, before Peyton Suchanek came up with the winning serve.

Napoleon, who has been instrumental in the Loggers’ success all season, came up big again on Thursday, finishing with a team-high 16 kills to go with seven blocks and an ace.

Suchanek also had a big night, adding 11 kills, six aces and two blocks, while the consistently reliable Paige Lyons added 28 assists, three kills and five aces.

The league title guarantees the Loggers a home playoff game, but Evans and her players are hoping this is just the first step on the way to a lot more, and the coach will be looking for improvement from her players going forward.

“What does it mean for us? It means a home playoff game, and it means we’re going to have to hunker down and put in some more hard work,” Evans said. 

The Eureka coach also paid tribute to a competitive McKinleyville team, which dropped to 1-6 in league play and 10-8 on the season.

“McKinleyville to their credit are a super scrappy team,” she said. “They served well, and they played tough. They really did.”

The Loggers close out league play at 7-1 and improved to 17-7 on the season.

They will host El Cerrito on Saturday at noon, while the Panthers play at Del Norte on Tuesday.

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