The Panthers are headed to the Dick Niclai tournament.
On Saturday night, the McKinleyville girls won a play-in game at home to Fortuna, 47-42, seizing momentum with a big third quarter and holding on down the stretch.
It’s been an up-and-down campaign for the Panthers, but they’re coming together and building some momentum at the right time.
After opening league play with back-to-back wins, they then went on a five-game losing streak, before responding with a one-point win over Del Norte on Thursday to force Saturday’s play-in game.
“It’s all about how you finish and not how you start,” head coach Jacob Cheek said.
Once again, it was the Panthers D that got them going, as they overturned a five-point halftime deficit with a 16-9 third quarter.
“We started out slow, but like we have all season we got a little energy and it started on the defensive end,” Cheek said.
Camryn Pinard paced the Panthers offensively with 12 points, while Bella Turner scored 11 and helped her team grab the momentum with eight points in the third quarter.
“Bella’s our energizer off the bench,” Cheek said.
Morgan Stubbs added nine points as the Panthers improved to 8-11 on the season, while Kim Lewis chipped in eight points and was a clutch 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Isobel Crosswhite scored a game-high 15 points for the Huskies, who are now 11-14 and have split four games with McKinleyville this season.
Teal Mostovoy added 11 points and Gabby Stephens six.
The win for McKinleyville sets up a first-round Niclai showdown at Big 5 rival Arcata on Monday night, and that’s a matchup that rarely disappoints and usually is intense.
“Nothing like playing your rivals in the playoffs,” Cheek said.
The Tigers have won all three game between the two neighbors this season, but the Panthers appear to be peaking at the right time after a stop-and-go season that saw them not play for two weeks because of COVID protocols and then have to play four games in five days.
“It’s a complete team effort,” Cheek said. “It’s everybody buying into what we’re doing. I’m just really happy with how we’re coming together.”
Monday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the winner will then advance to play at Ferndale in Wednesday’s semifinal.