RENO, Nevada – After hitting the gas pedal all night long, the Eastern Washington women picked the right time to find the clutch.
The Eagles made all the big plays in the final two minutes as they took an epic 100-97 win over Sacramento State in the Big Sky Conference quarterfinals Wednesday night.
In the end, it was the Hodgins sisters – senior guard Hayley and sophomore forward Delaney – who made the biggest ones to lift Eastern into the semifinals for the second straight year.
The second-seeded Eagles – the top team left in the field – will face Idaho, which beat Weber State on Wednesday 86-83 in OT, on Friday at 2:35 p.m. at the Reno Events Center. At stake will be a berth in Saturday’s title game against North Dakota or Idaho State, though that meant little in the emotional moments following Wednesday’s game.
“Delaney wants to do everything she can to keep playing with her sister,” coach Wendy Schuller said after a game that also gave the Eagles a 20-win season for the second year in a row.
“It’s just special – you don’t get this every year as a coach,” Schuller said.
You certainly don’t always get the kind of plays the Eagles (20-11) fashioned in the final two minutes. With her team trailing by 4 points with less than two minutes left, Delaney Hodgins grabbed an offensive rebound and made the putback.
After missed layin by Sac State, Hayley Hodgins made “a shot my team has confidence in me taking,” a step-back 15-footer that tied the game at 95 with 1:04 left.
The sister act was renewed with 29 seconds left, as Delaney forced a jump ball with the possession arrow pointing Eastern’s way.
“I knew my girl wasn’t going to shoot the three and I could recover if she did,” said Delaney Hodgins, who finished with 26 points, one fewer than Hayley. “I was just there to make the play.”
Eight seconds later, Violet Kapree Morrow sank two free throws to give second-seeded Eastern the lead for good at 97-95. With six seconds left, forward Ashli Payne stole the ball to set up Hayley Hodgins’ game-clinching free throws with 5 seconds left.
Hodgins finished with a game-high 27 points while hitting 5 of 11 from long range.
“This team has so much heart and guts – for miles and miles,” Schuller said. “I think that showed today. They don’t quit and they find ways to make plays.”
There were other heroes on night that tested the Eagles’ resolve against Sac State’s relentless full-court pressure and wanton aggression on the boards. Payne finished with 19 points and a game-high 18 rebounds, while the rest of the Eagles picked up the defensive intensity after Hayley Hodgins picked up her third foul early in the third quarter.
“I think every player on our team let it out and gave everything they had,” Schuller said.
Befitting Sac State’s pressing style, the game was fast-paced from the beginning. The Eagles got off to a slow start, trailing by eight with three minutes left in first quarter while missing seven of their first eight shots from inside the arc.
At first, only Hayley Hodgins could find the range; she hit three straight 3-point shots and accounted for 11 of the Eagles’ first 12 points.
Down 26-21 after one quarter, the Eagles seized the momentum in the next 10 minutes. With the rest of the lineup finding good shots, they repeatedly broke the press and hit 13 of 20 shots in the second quarter to take a 51-45 halftime lead.
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