By Ray Hamill — The Loggers found a way to stop the surging Panthers on Tuesday night, handing McKinleyville its first loss against H-DNL opposition in two weeks and advancing to a Dick Niclai semifinal date with crosstown rival St. Bernard’s.
Just six days after falling to the same Panthers by 20 points, the Eureka girls responded with a much-needed 62-50 win, frustrating the Mack offense with their relentless press after going to a smaller starting lineup.
It was a physical, hard-fought, exciting matchup between two teams that know each other well at this stage of the season — this was their third meeting in less than a month — and two teams that harbored realistic Dick Niclai championship ambitions.
“That was fun,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said. “The energy and effort, and us going with a quicker lineup, it was fun. We haven’t pressed at the same level we did tonight since probably the end of the tournament season.”
The loss was just the second in seven games for the McKinleyville girls, who struggled defensively most of the night and were unable to keep their recent momentum going.
“I thought we did some good things and there were things we were disappointed with,” McKinleyville head coach Tony McClure said. “I thought we did a good job pushing the ball in transition. We played aggressive. We played with energy.
“But defensively we were just flat all night. I don’t know if we were tired or what.”
It was the Panthers’ fourth game in seven days and the Eureka girls’ first since last Wednesday.
The win, however, was well deserved by the Loggers, who played with a focus and purpose after losing four of their last five games.
Numerous players stepped up after a team only meeting at the end of last week.
In what was a back-and-forth game all night, Mack started the hotter of the two teams, opening up a quick 7-0 lead, but the home team settled quickly and went on a 12-3 run late in the first quarter, with Bella Vigil inspirational yet again.
Vigil and fellow junior Keylei Carroll each started in the smaller, quicker Eureka lineup, and both had big nights.
Vigial score six of her 14 points late in the first quarter, including a basket off a Sophia Chalmers steal and assist to give the home team their first lead of the game.
With Hope Kibby directing the offense, however, the visitors began to find a way around the relentless Eureka press, and went on a 14-5 run to re-take the advantage.
The Panthers shot brilliantly from 3-point range in the second quarter, hitting five for the period, including four straight at one stage, and held a five-point lead at the interval.
“We went out and shot 7-of-10 from the 3-point line in the first half, and that’s by far the best 3-point shooting we’ve had all season,” McClure said.
The third quarter, however, belonged to the Loggers, who outscored the visitors 19-7 to take firm control of the game, and after that there was no way back for McKinleyville.
“We had a good first half, but in the third quarter we had a letdown at the offensive end,” McClure said. “But I thought (the players) gave it their all. They just had a bad few minutes of basketball.”
Chalmers was instrumental in the win, switching to point guard in the quicker lineup and contributing throughout.
The consistent senior always seems to give the Loggers a boost when they need it the most and finished with a team-high 15 points, scoring in all four quarters.
Malia Guilbert also had a big game, finishing with 14 points and giving the home team a physical presence in the paint in what was a hard-fought showdown.
“It was super physical,” McClure said of the game.
Sophomore McKenna Beach continued her impressive campaign, adding 10 points.
“She’s got the confidence now and she’s doing good things,” Harvey said.
Carroll chipped in five points and was as tenacious as ever on the defensive end.
The game featured a number of turnovers, by both teams, but that was more due to the frenetic nature of the play more than any sloppiness.
Kibby, who finished with 12 points, was outstanding for the visitors and has been a catalyst in her team’s late-season surge after returning from injury, growing in stature with each performance.
Rayn Tripp also had a big night, scoring a game-high 17 points and giving her team a lift at critical times.
Cameron Heenan added six points and Rian Heenan five.
The Panthers were without one of their best defensive players off the bench, Kylee Townsend, who was sick.
With the loss, the Panthers are 11-15, but remain NCS playoff eligible, with the brackets being announced on Sunday.
The Loggers, who improved to 18-9, will now play at St. Bernard’s on Thursday at 7 p.m., the third matchup between the two rivals this winter, with each having won once.