RENO, Nevada — With her sister’s career hanging in the balance, Delaney Hodgins put her team on her back and carried the Eagles down the stretch. With Eastern Washington’s season hanging in the balance. Hayley Hodgins hit yet another huge shot to help her team survive.
In a seesaw battle that saw eight ties and five lead changes, the Hodgins sisters combined to score 53 points, including 12 of Eastern Washington’s final 16 points as the second-seeded Eagles survived seventh-seeded Sacramento State’s upset bid with a 99-97 win on Wednesday evening at the Big Sky Conference women’s tournament.
Delaney Hodgins hit buckets on four of five possessions, including a third-chance put-back with one minute, 47 seconds to play to bring her team within two. On the ensuing Sacramento State possession, Adella Randle-El got into the paint like she had all evening but her layup careened off the rim. With 64 seconds to play, Hayley Hodgins caught the ball in the corner, drove baseline, initiated contact and shot a fall-away jump shot that found nothing but the bottom of the net to tie the game 95-95.
“It’s a shot I make every day in practice and it’s a shot my team has confidence in me taking,” said Hayley Hodgkins, a first-team All-Big Sky selection who scored the most total points in the league during the regular season. “I’ve taken on that role when we need to score, I’m willing to do that. I had all the confidence in the world because we needed a bucket and whether it came from someone else or me, it happened to work out.”
On Sac State’s next trip, Randle-El again got into the lane and again missed. Margaret Huntington grabbed her eighth offensive rebound of the night, Sac’s 21st all told, but Delaney Hodgins swooped in from behind and nabbed her third steal. Violet Kapri Morrow knocked down two free throws to give EWU its first lead in the fourth quarter.
“I just saw the ball coming and that’s what we really needed, the energy from that and the momentum,” Delaney Hodgins said. “I knew my girl wasn’t going to shoot the 3 and I knew I could recover if she did. I knew Randle-El was going to take the last shot so I was there to make the play.”
Trailing 97-95 with 21 seconds left, Randle-El drove the lane with fervor but was tripped by Ashli Payne. Hayley Hodgins converted both free throws, bringing her game-high point total to 27, one more point than her sophomore sister, and sealed EWU’s spot in the tournament semifinals.
“For Hayley, we want to keep playing and playing and playing and I know she doesn’t want it to end, so we are going to do everything in our power,” EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said following her team’s 20th win of the season. “I know Delaney deep down, there’s a bone in her that wants to do everything she can to keep playing with her sister and she played that way tonight. This is special.”
Sacramento State’s frantic style comes with defined statistical goals. The Hornets want to shoot 100 shots, including 50 from beyond the 3-point arc. Sac wants to force 30 turnovers and secure 40 percent of the offensive rebounds.
On Monday, Sac hit 19 3-pointers and shot 58, crashing relentlessly and securing 30 offensive rebounds in a 102-89 win over Southern Utah. On Wednesday, EWU was able to push the Hornets off the 3-point line, take care of the ball and go toe to toe with the aggressive underdogs on the glass. Sac secured 21 offensive rebounds, 44 percent of the potential chances but EWU turned the ball over just 13 times and Sac hoisted 40 3-pointers, hitting 11.
“They was hogging the 3-point line, it did open up the middle and when they did collapse on me, I kicked it out but I didn’t kick it out enough,” said Randle-El, who finished with 21 points nine rebounds and seven assists in her final game. “Once they started hogging but we didn’t get the win and it wasn’t enough.”
Payne paced EWU’s effort on the glass. The junior college transfer bulled her way to 18 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. She went to war with Huntington and Gretchen Harrigan all evening while also chipping in 18 points and four assists.
“AP did a fantastic job battling on the boards,” Schuller said. “Every kid on our team just let it out and gave everything they had and didn’t save anything but for the moment. For AP to rebound like that, that’s a great job on the glass.”
Two days after hitting seven 3-pointers against SUU, Maranne Johnson hit six more and scored a team-high 25 points for Sac State. Harrigan scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Huntington added 14 pints and 11 rebounds as Sac narrowly won the battle of the glass, 49-47.
“We were trying to play for our seniors,” Huntington said. “We didn’t win it but we played for them throughout. (Payne) is strong, we are all strong down there so it’s hard to hit people but she got 18 rebounds. That’s pretty tough.”
EWU point guard Tisha Phillips joined the Hodgins sisters and Payne as a double figures scorers with 13 points. She also dished out four of EWU’s 17 assists.
Sacramento State’s season ends with a record of 14-17. EWU advances to play the winner of Wednesday’s late quarterfinal between Idaho and Weber State.
“I’m happy for these kids,” Schuller said. “It’s Hayley’s senior year and for what we’ve gone through in this last year, this is sweet. I love this team. I’ve cried twice in the locker room with them. They are just a lot of fun to coach. You love going to practice every day. You don’t always feel that way but this team has so much heart and guts for miles and miles and that showed today. They don’t quit.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.