Huskies edge the Panthers with strong team defense

File photo – Fortuna’s McKenzie Emmons

The Fortuna Huskies went back to what they do best as they defeated the Panthers 42-35 on Thursday night to re-take sole possession of first place in the Big 5 in girls basketball.

“I thought the best thing we did was play good team defense,” head coach Scott Betts said after the win. “All 12 players played, and all of them played good team defense.”

With the win, the Huskies improved to 4-1 in the Big 5 with just three games remaining, and are now 18-2 overall, already giving them their most wins in a season since 2010.

Their win, coupled with Eureka’s loss to Del Norte, leaves the Huskies all alone atop the Big 5 standings.

This win, however, meant more than just that to a Fortuna team that lost to Arcata on Tuesday and needed a good response to keep its title ambitions on track.

“In the last game I thought Arcata out-hustled us and out-coached us,” Betts said. “This game, the girls didn’t want that to happen again.”

It was, however, a close call with the Panthers dropping yet another tight game and remaining in contention until the final moments.

The Huskies defense held the home team to just 12 points in the opening half and they led by just one at the interval, but both teams warmed up a bit in the second half, with a 17-13 fourth quarter lifting the visitors to victory.

McKenzie Emmons had the steady hand all night for Fortuna, finishing with a game-high 14 points and draining a 3-pointer in each of the four quarters.

The tenacious Charlotte Carroll also had a big game, scoring 12 points, eight of them in the fourth quarter.

Gracie Betts added seven points in the win and Moncerrat Bernal five, all of them from the free-throw line.

Defensively, the ever-reliable Morgan Murray had a big game, taking a late charge that her head coach described as “huge.”

Hailee Henry and Rayn Tripp each scored 10 points for McKinleyville, which dropped to 1-4 in the Big 5 (5-13 overall) and faces a big challenge now to make the end-of-season Niclai tournament.

Rian Heenan added five points for Mack.

Next up, McKinleyville travels to Arcata on Wednesday, while Fortuna heads to Eureka for a pivotal showdown.

If the Tigers fall to the Panthers, a win for the Huskies over the Loggers would give them at least a share of the Big 5 championship for the first time in more than a decade.

A loss, on the other hand, would leave Fortuna and Eureka tied atop the standings going into the final week of action, with Arcata possibly right on their heels.

Wednesday is shaping up to a be a huge night for the Big 5.

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