By Ray Hamill — Wednesday night’s Big 5 opener between the Eureka and Fortuna girls was at times a sloppy game, with too many fouls, stoppages and wayward shooting.
It was also, however, an exciting affair that wasn’t decided until the final seconds, and served notice in two different ways.
One, if this game is any indication, this year’s league should be extremely competitive, and two, it suggests there is little separating the favorites from the rest of the field.
Playing at home, the Loggers had to battle a little harder than many neutrals would have anticipated, but managed to pull out a 56-52 win over the Huskies, who pushed their hosts all the way.
With Del Norte also defeating Hoopa Valley 46-18 for their seventh straight win on Wednesday, the Warriors (11-1) and Loggers (10-4) are the two favorites in the Big 5.
The Huskies, however, showed they’re well capable of being in the mix, in a game they’ll feel they should have won.
Big third quarter
The visitors overcame a poor start to the game offensively with a huge third quarter, and led by six points three minutes into the final period.
The hosts, however, took advantage of numerous trips to the line in the final minutes of the game, hitting on 9-of-14 attempts in that spell to pull out the come-from-behind win.
The Loggers hit just three baskets from the field in the final quarter, one each from Kellina Pratton and Makaila Napoleon, as well as a pivotal 3-pointer from Sophia Chalmers.
Chalmers’ score gave the Loggers a 48-46 lead with under two minutes remaining, their first lead in more than nine minutes and one they would hold the remainder of the way.
“We gave the fans their money’s worth,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said. “And I think (Fortuna head coach) Jesse (Genaro) had his girls ready to play. They made their free throws.”
The loss drops the Huskies to 0-1 in conference play (10-6 overall), but Genaro saw the performance as a major positive.
“Amazing,” he said. “We battled. We came out wit energy. We were a little flat as far as scoring, but our defense held us in the game. I was happy with our energy, effort and attitude.”
The performance will also send a warning to the other Big 5 schools.
“I definitely think tonight’s performance told everyone we’re here,” the head coach said. “The Big 5 is open this year.”
The Loggers, to their credit, did enough to pull out the win, stepping up when they needed to.
“I thought we played with energy,” Harvey said. “I thought we were sloppy, but I think it was a good wake-up call for us.
“We got something out of it, which is good.”
The Loggers looked as if they might cruise to a relatively easy win early on, with some quality defense and some wayward Fortuna shooting giving them a 12-4 lead barely seven minutes in.
After holding the visitors to just 13 first-half points, the Loggers stretched their advantage to as many as 11 points early in the second half, before the Huskies woke up offensively.
With junior Charlotte Carroll making her presence felt in the paint, and point guard Camrin Dolcini directing traffic and nailing some key 3-pointers, the Huskies went on an 24-8 run to take control of the game.
That spell included five Fortuna 3s, two from Dolcini, and one each from Mckenzie Emmons, Moncerrat Bernal and Bailey Parker.
Carroll also had eight of her team-high 22 points in the third quarter.
Back-to-back baskets from Eureka’s Dorshaela Wesson to close out the period, however, pulled the Loggers back within one point and gave them some crucial momentum.
Napoleon was again instrumental for the Loggers, scoring a game-high 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
More impressively, the Eureka senior stepped up her game at the free throw line when her team needed it the most, nailing 7-of-9 attempts in the fourth quarter.
Chalmers gave her team a big boost off the bench, and not just with the late 3-pointer, finishing with nine points and draining 3-of-4 free throws late in the game to help seal the win.
Napoleon was particularly clutch in the final 30 seconds, with a basket and a pair of free throws to keep the visitors at bay, the latter coming in the final seconds after Dolcini had nailed two free throws herself to pull the Huskies within two points.
Dolcini finished with 11 points in the loss, while Parker had eight and Emmons seven.
Paige Lyons and Wesson each finished with six points for the Loggers.
Fortuna JVs win again, barely
The high-flying Fortuna JVs survived their toughest test of the season with a hard-fought 49-45 win at Eureka.
Trailing for most of the game, the Huskies rallied back from eight points down to take the lead with just three minutes remaining.
With the win, the Fortuna girls improved to 14-0 on the season.