By Ray Hamill — Get ready for a wild final night of action in Big 5 girls basketball, with every team still in contention for the Dick Niclai tournament.
On Wednesday night, the McKinleyville girls beat Eureka 70-50 and Del Norte got the better of Arcata 46-38, leaving the Loggers (4-4) second in the standings behind champions Fortuna (6-1), followed by Arcata and Del Norte (both 3-4) and McKinleyville (2-5).
“We finally started playing good here at the end of the season,” said McKinleyville head coach Tony McClure, whose team has won three of its last four games and has put itself right back in the thick of the chase for a place in both the Niclai and the North Coast Section playoffs. “We’re executing a little better than we have been, and another thing is we’ve got a squad that is healthy finally.”
A win for the Panthers in their finale at home to Del Norte on Friday could be enough to leave them in a three-way tie for third in the standings, depending on how Arcata fares against Fortuna.
It would also push the Panthers back to 6-6 against Division-IV opposition, which would be enough to make them eligible for the NCS playoffs, depending on how they would then fare in a playoff or in the Niclai tournament.
“We’ve still got something to play for, and Del Norte’s got something to play for,” McClure said.
The Panthers played on Wednesday as if their season depended on it, taking the game to the Loggers and never relenting.
They led by as many as 12 in the opening half and held a nine-point advantage at halftime, and every time the Loggers made a run the Mack girls found a way to pull away again.
Rayn Tripp and Cameron Heenan were particularly instrumental in the win.
Tripp shot 7-of-9 from the field and scored a game-high 21 points, including eight in the opening quarter to set the tone.
Heenan, who has been impressive down the stretch of the season, shot 7-of-8 and finished with 14 points, 10 of them in the fourth, as well as coming away with 10 rebounds and five steals.
“We were able to shoot them out of their zone early and force them into man,” McClure said of the Loggers. “And then we were able to be aggressive to the basket.”
Hailee Henry also had a big night for the Panthers, finishing with 13 points, while Hope Kibby was a force defensively as she continues to re-establish herself in the lineup after a layoff.
McKenna Beach and Carly Boynton each scored 11 points to lead the way for the Loggers, who have now lost four of their last five games and are 17-9 overall.
Beach also has been impressive for the Eureka girls down the stretch of the season despite the team’s struggles.
Sophia Chalmers chipped in nine points, while Aquene Tollefson gave the team a spark off the bench for the second straight game, finishing with five points.
Eureka won the JV game 51-41, while the Loggers also won the freshmen game.