Eureka girls erase late-game deficit to top Fortuna in Niclai championship

Eureka tops Fortuna 38-37, claims program's second all-time Niclai Tournament championship

The Eureka High girls basketball team celebrates after winning Friday’s Niclai championship game against Fortuna. (Jose Quezada — HumSport)
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Malia Guilbert got a go-ahead bucket from the painted area to fall with seven seconds to play, Sophia Chalmers ignited the Loggers’ offense early and secured a game-sealing steal as time expired, Kellina Pratton and McKenna Beach each made 3-pointers to cut down a five-point Huskies lead with under a minute to play, and the Eureka High girls basketball team fought back from a late-game deficit to top Fortuna 38-37 in the Humboldt-Del Norte League Dick Niclai Tournament championship game, Friday night at Lumberjack Arena.

Friday’s title win counts as Eureka’s second Niclai championship in program history. The first came in 2004. Entering Friday’s game Eureka had lost both of its regular season meeting against Fortuna.

Fortuna took an early fourth-quarter lead and held it for the bulk of the frame. With 1:16 to play Fortuna led 35-28 thanks in part to a pair of 3-pointers from Gracie Betts earlier in the quarter.

And then the comeback started.

Claire Maples got a contested layup to fall, cutting Fortuna’s lead to five and ending a six-plus minute stretch which saw Eureka go without a made field goal.

Pratton drained a 3-pointer to bring the Loggers within two. Eureka pressured Fortuna’s following in-bound play and forced a steal.

Harvey said he and his coaching staff debated whether to immediately foul. The Loggers opted to go for the steal, and it paid off.

Beach got the ball a few seconds after the steal and connected on a lead-taking 3-pointer.

On the Huskies’ ensuing possession Fortuna’s Charlotte Carroll took the ball the length of the court and drove in for a layup and a 37-36 lead with 20 seconds to play.

Guilbert, who had not scored all night, received the ball right in the middle of the paint — the senior’s favorite spot to work — on a beautifully placed pass from Pratton with the final 10 seconds of regulation quickly evaporating from the clock.

Guilbert turned to face the basket and made a strong drive towards the hoop before letting Eureka’s last chance fly — and making the shot which ended a 15-year Niclai drought for the Loggers.

“I’m just so proud and happy for (Guilbert),” Harvey said. “She took such a strong drive to the basket and made an amazing play.”

Fortuna got the ball back with 6.9 seconds to play, but did little with it as Chalmers got her hands on the ball and took it as the buzzer sounded.

Offensively Chalmers played her part early on, scoring Eureka’s first seven points of the night as the Loggers took an 11-6 lead after one quarter.

McKenzie Emmons and Betts each connected on 3-balls in the second quarter as Fortuna went on an 8-2 run to open the frame before heading into halftime ahead 17-16. Chalmers scored over half (9) of Eureka’s first half points, just as the senior did in Thursday’s semifinal win at St. Bernard’s.

Fortuna maintained its slim lead throughout the third and carried a 25-23 lead into the fourth quarter.

After Pratton tied the game in the opening minute of the fourth, Fortuna held Eureka without a field goal and to one point until Maples made a layup and began a comeback for the ages.

Playing from behind was a theme for the Loggers through their Niclai run. Eureka trailed at halftime in each of its three Niclai tournament games, and by the end of all three had done enough to leave the court as victors.

“There’s been a lot of special moments during my 35 years of coaching, but this is right there at the top of the list,” Harvey said. “These girls played with resolve, determination and a lot of fight all week. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Scoring recap

Eureka: Chalmers 12pts, Beach 11pts, Boyton 4pts.

Fortuna: Betts 13pts, Carroll 10pts, Emmons 6pts.

Up next

Both teams will await the North Coast Section playoff seedings, to be announced Sunday.

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