By Ray Hamill — The Loggers are headed back to the Dick Niclai championship in girls basketball, after getting the better of St. Bernard’s 46-41 on Thursday night, in what has become an exciting rivalry between these two programs.
The Eureka girls had to battle all the way for this one, overcoming a poor night shooting with a big fourth-quarter rally, outscoring the home team 15-8 in the final period.
The game was a physical affair, with the Loggers going to the free-throw line 26 times and St. Bernard’s just eight times.
“It may not have been super pretty, but the effort was there and the desire, and our defense was excellent,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said.
The win was the Loggers’ second in three days in Niclai action and sets up a championship showdown against Big 5 champion Fortuna at Humboldt State on Friday night.
It was also the second win over the Crusaders in three games this season, all of them tough physical encounters, and all of them close.
“I was proud of our effort in a very emotional and intense game,” St. Bernard’s head coach Mark Gardner said “I feel like this has prepared us well for sections.”
There was little between the two teams in the first quarter, and any time one of them took the lead, the other seemed to answer almost immediately.
The second quarter, however, was very different with the Loggers struggling to score and held to just one point until a Sophia Chalmers 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Chalmers was once again instrumental for her team, scoring a team-high 15 points for the game, including four 3-pointers, none of them as important as the buzzer-beater, which left the visitors trailing by just six at the half.
“That 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter was huge,” said Harvey, who added that “it felt like a much bigger deficit than six” at the interval.
Chalmers’ big basket gave her team some momentum heading into the halftime break, especially considering how poorly they had shot for the quarter, and the Eureka girls looked loose and relaxed when they re-took the court.
“I think the girls thought we can do this,” said Harvey, whose team had trailed by 11 on the way to beating the Crusaders in December. “We’re good at coming back, and good at fighting through adversity.”
The Loggers can thank their defense for keeping them in the game, as they held St. Bernard’s to 10 points in the second quarter despite their offensive woes, and they were just as effective after the break, giving up just 17 second-half points.
St. Bernard’s freshman sensation Saulele Tanuvasa scored a game-high 17 points, but Harvey described that as a win for the Loggers.
Tanuvasa hit a pair of baskets in the final eight seconds of the third quarter to halt a 10-0 Eureka run and give her team a two-point advantage heading into the final period.
Once the Loggers had grabbed the momentum, however, they began to play with more confidence, and they dominated the second half, outscoring the home team 25-12 to close out.
Chalmers, as she has for most of the season, played a key role for Eureka, scoring eight of her tally in the opening quarter to keep her team in the game.
“Sophia’s our rock,” Harvey said. “She kept us in the game in the first half.”
Fellow senior Carly Boynton also played a pivotal role in the win, scoring nine points, all of them in the third quarter to kickstart the rally.
Boynton has made a habit of playing well against St. Bernard’s this season.
Junior Bella Vigil had problems shooting for the opening three quarters before exploding offensively in the fourth, when she scored 11 of her 13 points to help the Loggers hold the home team at bay.
Vigil hit two huge 3-pointers early in the period.
“I’m very proud of her,” Harvey said of Vigil, who stuck with the game despite her early offensive struggles, and was a catalyst as always on defense.
Kellina Pratton also had a big game for the visitors, coming off the bench.
“She did so many good things,” Harvey said of the senior guard.
For St. Bernard’s, Josie Peterson finished with eight points and MacKenzie Finck and Shelby Jordan each added five points.
“We’ll have some things to work on to get ready for sections, but I’m very proud of everyone on the team,” said Gardner, whose team dropped to 20-6 and will find out its NCS opponent on Sunday.
The Loggers, who improved to 19-9, will now get a rematch with Fortuna, which won both Big 5 games between the two teams by seven and nine points.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Harvey said. “I think the girls are excited.”
Game time is set for 6 p.m. at HSU’s Lumberjack Arena, with the boys’ championship game between Del Norte and Arcata at 7:30 p.m.