By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers are learning how to win close games.
On Thursday night, they rallied late to pull out a pivotal 61-52 win at Eureka to keep their Big 5 championship hopes alive.
Senior Garrett Hall was instrumental in the late run, scoring eight of his game-high 21 points in the fourth, including two huge 3-pointers to begin the quarter and set the late run in motion.
“I thought down the stretch we showed mental toughness,” head coach Dusty Scofield said.
The win lifts the Tigers to 5-1 in the Big 5 (16-7 overall) and sets up a massive championship-deciding showdown at home to Del Norte (6-0) on Tuesday night.
For Scofield and his players, Thursday’s win was another step in the process, and a sign that this team is peaking at the right time and understanding what it takes to win tight games.
“The guys are learning what it takes to win ball games,” Scofield said. “Right now, our mental focus is good, especially defensively. The guys are working their butts off defensively.”
Hall in particular, has stepped up his game as his team has needed it.
“Garrett was big for us down the stretch again,” Scofield said. “The last couple of games he’s playing focused and in control.”
Jack Taylor also had a big game, scoring 10 points, nine of them in the opening quarter as the visitors took control early, opening up a 13-2 lead.
But the home team battled back to tie the game at 14-14 and it was a battle after that.
Niko Zambas added eight points in the win, while Brandon Bento-Jackson and Dylan Kile had six each.
Kile drained two second-quarter 3-pointers, including one right at the end of the half to stretch the lead back up to nine at the break.
Bento-Jackson was 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the fourth to help keep the Loggers at arm’s length.
Trailing by nine at the interval, the Eureka boys came storming back in the third, with Cahliel Garner once again instrumental.
Garner, who has stepped up his game late in the season and is playing some outstanding basketball right now, scored all 14 of his points in the third quarter, as Eureka outscored Arcata 20-9 for the period.
“He’s definitely coming on,” Eureka head coach Robbie Thompson said of Cahliel. “Everybody talked about how well he played. We just wish we could have helped him better, myself included.
“We’ve got to find better ways to get him the ball.”
Hall quickly re-established the Tigers’ lead with back-to-back 3s to open the fourth and they gradually pulled away after that.
Grant Barrera finished with 11 points for the Loggers, who dropped to 2-5 in the Big 5 and 14-9 overall, while Jackson Giacone added 10 points and had a big game defensively.
The Loggers remain in a tie with Fortuna for third in the Big 5, and in the hunt for a place in this year’s Dick Niclai tournament with one game each remaining.
The Loggers play at home to McKinleyville on Tuesday and the Huskies play at home to Arcata on Thursday.
“I told the guys to keep their heads up,” Thompson said. “It’s a marathon. We’ve just got to move on and get ready for the next game.”
Next up, Eureka plays at St. Bernard’s in a non-league game on Saturday night.