By Ray Hamill — This time around there was no letdown.
After missing out on the opportunity to clinch a share of the Big 5 championship at Fortuna on Tuesday, the Eureka girls made no mistake on Thursday night, playing composed ball on the way to a 63-58 win over closest challengers Arcata at Eureka High.
The win not only gives the Loggers a first league crown since they were co-champs along with Arcata in 2015, but it is the program’s first outright championship since … well, as long as anyone with the team seems to remember.
“I don’t know when Eureka last won the championship outright,” head coach Mike Harvey admitted. “It’s the first time since MaxPrep records existed going back to 2003/04. It’s been 20 years.”
Ending that long drought was a goal the team talked about at the outset of the season, and it’s an achievement Harvey feels his players should be very proud of.
“It’s special and the girls should be proud,” the coach said. “The coaches are proud of them.
“It’s been a long time coming and hats off to the girls for doing an outstanding job. They took some lumps against some good teams early in the season, but it all prepared us for the grind.”
With the win, the Loggers moved three wins ahead of the chasing pack, improving to 6-1 with one league game remaining and leaving little doubt as to who is the best team in the Big 5 this winter.
There was little to separate the two teams early in Thursday’s game, but the Eureka girls began to take control late in the second quarter, closing out on a 10-3 run to lead by seven at the break.
They carried that momentum into the third quarter and continued to pull away, stretching the advantage to as many as 15 late in the period.
After that, there was on way back for the visitors, who came into the game riding a four-game winning streak and were playing their fourth game in six days.
“I thought we played really good defense,” Harvey said.
No one more so than junior Mariah Napoleon, who has evolved into arguably the best defensive player in the Big 5 and a consistent presence in the paint for her team.
“Mariah is a rock star out there,” Harvey said. “Her defense was amazing again. She was flat out amazing.”
Kira Morris scored a team-high 14 points, while Napoleon finished with 12 points and Amaya Gee had 10.
Claire Maples also had a good game defensively and played with some intensity, while McKenna Beach chipped in eight points and Aniah Gaither seven.
With the win, the Loggers improved to 16-8 on the season.
Alia Prentiss scored a game-high 17 points for Arcata, which dropped to 3-3 in league play and 11-8 overall.
“Hats off to Doug (Oliveira), he coached a great game and their girls played really hard,” Harvey said of the Tigers.
Nora Talty added 14 points for Arcata, while Caroline Dieker had eight points, Lily Rust-Kelley seven and Olivia Railsback six.
The Tigers have two league games remaining and are still in the midst of a tight battle for the second and third Big 5 Dick Niclai tournament berths.
The win for the Loggers gives them a No. 1 seed for the league postseason tourney.
Next up, on Saturday, Arcata plays at South Fork at 2:30 p.m., while Eureka plays at St. Bernard’s at 6 p.m.