Eureka’s Lady Vandals hadn’t been in the state champion finals since 2013 when they won it last, but this year was different.
The young and talented Vandals, led by sophomore Gracie Garrett, advanced with a thrilling semifinal upset of No. 1 ranked Coleville, but then lost in the finals to Mineral County who are led by another fine sophomore player, Perla Gutierrez, giving the Serpents two 1A state championships in the same night at The Orleans in Las Vegas as the boys won the title over defending champion Spring Mountain.
Eureka’s 37-34 win over Coleville in the semifinals was meaningful because it overshadowed two 14 point performances by Karla Gutierrez and Alex Sanchez for the Wolves.
It also gives the Vandals an 11-0 mark against Coleville since 2006 and only the second time the teams have played each other since 2014.
Eureka came out strong in the first quarter, jumping out to a 12-6 lead in the game at S.L.A.M. Academy in Henderson.
Both teams had a hard time dropping the ball in the basket as the score was low with players unable to score in unfamiliar surroundings.
Vandal’s coach Travis Gallagher said both teams were nervous knowing the high stakes, win or go home. “But I do think both teams played pretty good defense against each other.”
Coleville just didn’t seem to be able to recover from the first quarter deficit, although managed to keep it as close as they could, trailing 25-22 after three quarters.
Both teams did much better in the fourth quarter, with Eureka managing to stay in front. Gallagher said, “I thought we could pull away after the first quarter, but every time I looked we were just four points ahead. Coleville just wouldn’t go away on us.” Garrett led Eureka with 12 points, Ilyhia Greely added 10 and Gabi Minoletti had nine.”
Mineral County surprised McDermitt 57-51 in the other semifinal game on Friday, despite 26 points from state scoring leader Precious Masters. It was the Bulldogs first loss to the Serpents in the four games they have played since 2014.
In the Saturday championship at the Orleans Arena, Gutierrez outdueled Garrett, getting a game high 21 points on the way to 40-35 win and first title since 2003 when they were a 2A school. Gutierrez had 13 of her 21 points in the second half.
Eureka was hampered greatly by the aggressive defense of the Serpents which held Angelica Townsend to only six first half points and Garrett to just four.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez was limited to only two buckets and four free throws in the first half, But Gallagher said, “Unfortunately, Gabi Minoletti, who was guarding her, went out with a concussion at the start of the third quarter.
She was doing a good job on her and without her there in the second half, Gutierrez had a strong game. I didn’t have anybody that could keep up with her. She could turn that corner pretty quick and get that layup or the nice little floater. Drove the ball real well. She’s pretty good at it.”
Eureka was outscored 13-4 in the third quarter. “We had the opportunities,” Gallagher said, “We just couldn’t make the shot, even those one-foot shots on a layup after a steal.”
He said the girls did complain the depth perception in the Orleans on the outside shots, with the walls far behind the basket, presented a problem that both teams had to contend with.
“Gutierrez was guarding Garrett much of the time and stuck on her quite well with her quickness and Gracie wasn’t able to get her drives like she usually does and didn’t get any outside attempts,” said Gallagher. “They knew she was a threat and put the pressure on her.”
Garrett did get open for 12 of her team high 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Gallagher said, “There were quite a few steals we got that quarter, especially after Gutierrez fouled out with five minutes remaining and they had trouble getting the ball down the court against our press and Gracie was in the right position to get the layup and get fouled.” She was 4-for-7 at the line in the final period for Eureka.
Gallagher also gave credit to Greely for holding Mineral County’s big post player, Jerzi Moody-Isom, scoreless while scoring seven points herself. However, Isom did get quite a few rebounds.
Eureka finished the season with a record of 18-8 and only lose two to graduation.
Gallagher said, “It was a great season. What we accomplished this year being as young as we were and losing Morgan Thomas at the beginning, not many people believed the season would or could turn out the way it did turn out. We accomplished what we set out to do, and we were able to get past that semifinal game this time.”
The Lady Vandals had lost in the semifinals in 2017 and 2018. They were last in the state finals in 2013 when they beat Pahranagat Valley.