By Ray Hamill — The Eureka and Fortuna girls both won their Big 5 openers on Tuesday night to set up a huge early showdown between the two frontrunners later this week.
The Loggers won 62-56 at Del Norte, handing the defending champions their first league loss in two years, while at Fortuna the Huskies defeated McKinleyville 33-25 for their ninth straight win.
Eureka 62, Del Norte 56
The Loggers had a hard time containing Del Norte standout Jadence Clifton, but did enough at the other end of the court to pull out this impressive win.
“We had a tough time defending Jadence. She’s a talent,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said of the Del Norte junior who finished with a game-high 31 points in the loss. “We’re happy to get the win in Del Norte. It’s a tough place to get a win.”
Sophia Chalmers scored a team-high 20 points for the Loggers, who improved to 1-0 in the Big 5 and 14-4 overall, while fellow senior Malia Guilbert had a huge night, scoring 15 points and kickstarting the Loggers’ challenge.
“I think Malia Guilbert was incredible in the first half,” Harvey said. “She really kept us in the game when we were a little amped.”
Freshman Claire Maples also was instrumental in the win with a clutch performance down the stretch, scoring seven of her nine points in the fourth.
The Loggers stretched a two-point halftime lead to six at the end of the third, and opened up a 10-point advantage at one stage in the final period as they held off the home team late.
Olivia Stillwell and Lily Wilson each scored five for the home team, which dropped to 0-1 in league and 9-6 overall.
Bella Vigil also had a clutch performance defensively for the visitors.
“It was a team effort and that’s the way it always is,” Harvey said.
Fortuna 33, McKinleyville 25
The Huskies carried their pre-league form into the Big 5 with another stellar defensive performance as they stretched their winning streak to nine straight games.
And they weren’t the only ones to impressive at that end of the court.
“You know, I thought both teams actually played really good defense,” Fortuna head coach Scott Betts said.
Center Charlotte Carroll continued her impressive season with another highlight performance for the home team, scoring 13 points and pulling down double-digits in rebounds.
In fact, all four Fortuna seniors had big nights, with McKenzie Emmons, Moncerrat Bernal and Morgan Murray each also helping to set the tone.
Emmons finished with eight points and also had a good night handling the ball.
It was a hard-fought win for the Fortuna girls, who have been playing outstanding defense all year.
“I said all along that I think our toughest competition this year was going to be the teams in our league,” Betts said. “And I expect every game to be tough. Any team can win on any given night.”
Fortuna is now 15-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big 5.
Senior Hailee Henry scored a team-best six points for McKinleyville, despite battling a dose of the flu for the past couple of days.
The Panthers, who dropped to 0-1 in the Big 5 and 4-10 overall, shot a very disappointing 16 percent as a team, a sharp contrast to how they played at the other end of the court.
“I think we defended well all game. We just couldn’t execute offensively,” head coach Tony McClure said. “Fortuna challenged us all game and didn’t give us many good looks.”
The Fortuna JVs won their matchup between the two schools.
Arcata 65, Ferndale 31
The Tigers comfortably took care of business at home to Ferndale in their final league tune-up game on Tuesday night.
The Arcata girls, who open the Big 5 at McKinleyville on Thursday, held the visiting Wildcats to single digits in scoring in each of the first three quarters to lead 45-20 going into the fourth.
With the win, the Tigers are now 8-7.
The Wildcats (6-8) open the Little 4 at home to South Fork on Thursday night.
St. Bernard’s 68, Potter Valley 23
Lane Thrap scored a team-high 19 points to lead the Crusaders past the Bearcats at Potter Valley on Tuesday evening.
With the win, the SB boys improved to 6-5 on the season, as they prepare for their league opener at home to Hoopa on Friday night.
“It was a good night to work on some things, and to get a run in and to get everybody in the game,” St. Bernard’s head coach Steve Thrap said after the comfortable win.
Jake Fairfield added nine points in the win, while Bode Joyner and Hunter Davis each scored eight.