By Ray Hamill — The Eureka girls are finding ways to win games and developing a self-belief that could be very dangerous heading into the North Coast Section playoffs.
On Friday night they overcame a fourth-quarter deficit for the second straight night, rallying from seven points down in the final minute to pull out a thrilling 38-37 win over Fortuna in the Dick Niclai championship game.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kellina Pratton and McKenna Beach within a few seconds of each other keyed the late rally, which also included a basket by freshman Claire Maples.
Malia Guilbert then scored the winning basket with just 6.9 seconds remaining, after Fortuna’s Charlotte Carroll had snatched back the lead just a few moments earlier.
All in all it was a thrilling finish to an exciting game, capping what has been a very competitive season on the North Coast for the girls.
The championship was the first for the Loggers since 2004 and just their second ever, and it was particularly gratifying for the Eureka players who lost last season’s decider to Del Norte.
“Eureka hasn’t won it in a long time,” senior guard Sophia Chalmers said. “It’s special.”
There was little to separate these two rivals all night, with Fortuna holding a one-point advantage after the opening quarter and stretching it to just two by halftime.
In what was a defensive battle, the Loggers had trouble shooting the ball for much of the game, scoring just 12 points in the middle two quarters against a Fortuna team that has thrived on its suffocating defense all season.
Carroll was again instrumental at both ends of the court for the Huskies, dominating in the paint with Eureka center Carly Boynton in foul trouble for much of the game.
Carroll took a hard fall in the middle of the third quarter, but returned moments later and immediate drained a basket to tie the game at 23-23.
The basket seemed to spur on the Huskies, who went on a 12-3 run and appeared to be taking control of the game.
Gracie Betts hit a couple of huge 3-pointers for the Huskies, who won both Big 5 matchups against the Loggers this season n the way to the conference championship.
Betts fouled out moments later, however, and the Loggers began to find their groove after struggling offensively for much of the night.
Between the start of the second quarter and the final minute, the Eureka girls managed just four baskets, and they matched that number over the final 60 seconds.
“The girls’ effort and desire was the biggest difference,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said. “Coaching these girls is special. They don’t give up. They have resolve and fight.”
They certainly are an entertaining group.
“They had the resolve and focus to finish strong,” the head coach added. “And I couldn’t be more proud. And I couldn’t be more proud of the way they did it.”
Chalmers led the way for the Loggers, and without her this game would have been over long before the final minute.
The senior guard finished with a team-high 12 points, scoring Eureka’s first seven points.
Beach also continued to impress, finishing with 11 points, including the pivotal late 3-pointer, while Boynton chipped in four points and made her presence felt inside before fouling out.
“I’m just proud of all the girls, it’s an honor to coach them,” Harvey said.
Betts finished with a game-high 13 points, including four 3-pointers, and the Huskies missed her down the stretch.
Carroll added 10 points, while McKenzie Emmons finished with six and Morgan Murray four.
Moncerrat Bernal also gave her team a spark off the bench early, especially on the defensive end.
The Loggers improved to 20-9 with the win, while Huskies dropped to 23-3.
Both teams will now turn their attention to the NCS playoffs, which get under way next week.
Each will find out its seeding on Sunday.