Twice a bridesmaid, not yet a bride.
The Eureka Vandals girls basketball team might feel somewhat like that as for the second straight year they lost in the semifinals of the 1A Class girls state basketball tournament.
This time it was to eventual state champion Pahranagat Valley.
The Panthers (22-3) disrupted the Vandals offense right from the beginning with a full-court press that created numerous turnovers and led to a 14-6 first quarter lead.
In addition, Southern League co-Most Valuable Player Karley Whipple was more than a handful for the Vandals. She scored a game high 27 points leading the Panthers to a 51-42 victory, accounting for 17 of her points in the second half.
She hit all three of Pahranagat’s three-point attempts and got all her points on just 12 shots.
In the jungle, Panthers are fast, and on the basketball court they were also.
Eureka and Pahranagat had played in the preseason WREC tournament in Wells in December, and Vandals coach Travis Gallagher said he knew they were fast, “but they were faster than I expected. Whipple tore us up. I didn’t have anybody who could play defense against her.”
But no lead was big enough and near the end of the first half the Vandals made a run with nine points in a row to cut the lead to 20-18. “I was happy the girls came back then and played as strong as they did,” he said.
In the second half, every time it looked like Pahranagat Valley would run away, the Vandals (16-10) were right there.
They kept it tight in the third quarter and only trailed 35-29.
But again Whipple, the last female member of her family playing for Pahranagat, drained a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers their biggest lead at 13 points. Again though, the Lady Vandals responded with a 13-4 run to cut the lead to 46-42.
But Morgan Thomas fouled out at that point with 2:23 remaining.
“That really hurt our chances of coming back in the end,” Gallagher said. Angelika Townsend and Cody Gibbs also had four fouls at that point.
“Fouling Whipple hurt us pretty bad,” he said, “because then the girls had to play a little softer and I was having to sub out before I wanted to.”
Whipple took all eight free throws for the Panthers in the fourth, and made seven of them. She finished 12 of 16 for the game, and the Panthers were 14 of 22. Eureka was 5 of 10.
Madalyn Taylor had eight points and nine rebounds for Pahranagat.
Thomas led the Vandals with 21 points, and Cody Gibbs scored 15.
Eureka loses only two seniors off the squad. Cody Gibbs, a transfer from Wells, “has been a blessing to the team,” said Gallagher, “a strong point guard who knows the game well and TeAnna Green, who hadn’t played much varsity ball until this year, one of our starters and a good team captain.
We’ve got a good freshman class coming up. We’ll still be a little young, but all the girls gained some key experience winning the regionals twice and getting to the state tournament.”
Wells beat Round Mountain 47-26 in the other semifinal, then Pahranagat Valley beat Wells 58-43 for the championship, their first since 2015.