By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Pinewood School senior Hailie Eackles celebrated her 18th birthday on Saturday and her parents might have gotten off cheap, because Eackles didn't need any cake, candles and presents.
Eackles got everything she wanted in the Central Coast Section Division V championship game at Santa Clara University's Leavey Center, where the top-seeded Panthers held off the No. 2 Eastside Prep girls, 45-44.
"This is the best birthday present ever," said Eackles, who scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while putting her team on her back once again and carrying the top-seeded Panthers (24-5) to victory. "That's all I wanted."
The section title is the third straight for Eackles and fellow seniors Kelsey Morehead, Caitlin Ciardella, Mirando Seto and the injured Jenna McLoughlin.
"I think this is definitely the most exciting one," Eackles said. "It's going to be a memory I'll have forever."
The Panthers now have won 13 CCS crowns in the past 14 years, all under head coach Doc Scheppler.
'We are very luck to win," said Scheppler. "We've won a lot of CCS games winning ugly, like today."
The latest victory was especially nice since it was a battle between No. 1 vs. No. 2 and, arguably, the top two Division V teams in Northern California. With the CIF NorCal playoffs beginning Tuesday, the season-long series between these teams likely isn't over. They could meet again March 19 in the championship game at Folsom High, with the winner advancing to the state finals.
Pinewood was seeded No. 1 for NorCals on Sunday and Eastside Prep got the No. 2 seed. Both will have byes on Tuesday and open Thursday at home. Pinewood will play either No. 8 Rincon Valley Christian (29-3) or No. 9 Turlock Christian (21-9) at 6 p.m., while Eastside Prep will face either No. 7 Portola (25-4) or No. 10 Vacaville Christian (20-9) at 7 p.m.
Pinewood now holds a 3-1 edge in the series Eastside Prep this season, with all three wins decided by a combined seven points.
Eastside Prep senior Takara Burse made a long three-pointer with four seconds to play to bring the Prep Panthers to within 45-44, but they couldn't get the ball back as Pinewood inbounded and ran out the clock.
Just moments earlier, Eastside Prep senior Ahjalee Harvey had fired up a very long three-point attempt that missed everything with 11.1 seconds to play. Pinewood inbounded, but turned the ball over to give Burse her final shot. She finished with 19 points, but Harvey made only two of 15 shots and finished with an uncharacteristic eight points as Morehead and her teammates did a fine job defensively on the San Diego State-bound point guard.
Harvey was pretty much limited to jump shots from the perimeter as Pinewood did a good job of clogging the driving lanes. Eastside Prep did outrebound Pinewood 42-27, with sophomore Hashima Carothers grabbing 11, but couldn't convert many of the 11 offensive boards it had.
After Pinewood had grabbed a 31-29 lead on Caitlin Ciardella's three-pointer with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, Harvey missed a driving layin and Anisha Smith missed the follow up. Pinewood got the ball back and Eackles made two free throws for a 33-29 lead with just four seconds left. Eackles opened the fourth with a basket and when Seto hit her only three-pointer, Pinewood had a 38-31 lead.
Eastside rallied to within 38-37 on Harvey's three-pointer, but Eackles made two free throws after a technical foul on Harvey and, following an Eastside turnover, Eackles was fouled and made two more for a 42-37 lead. Carothers got two back on a jumper, but Eackles buried a trey with 57 seconds left to provide the margin of victory.
"She's carried us in soooo many games this year!" Scheppler said of Eackles. "She loves to win and when it gets winning time.....she knows and prides herself on good things happening!"
Pinewood shot poorly in the first half (21.7 percent) and trailed by 21-11 and than at the half, 23-15.
"People weren't boxing out and hustling for loose balls like Eastside was," Eackles said.
In the second half, Pinewood did a better job of boxing out, hitting big shots and limiting Eastside to one possession as much as possible. Eastside also managed just four free-throw attempts in the second half, making two, and didn't attempt any in the fourth quarter.
When the final buzzer sounded, Eackles covered her face with her hands – perhaps breathing a sigh of relief. Her birthday was complete.
CCS Division V Championship
At Leavey Center, Santa Clara University
Eastside Prep 10 13 6 15 – 44
Pinewood 9 6 18 12 – 45
EPrep – Bradford 1 0-0 2, Holland 3 0-0 6, Harvey 2 2-2 8, Burse 8 1-3 19, Smith 0 0-0 0, Carothers 4 1-2 9. Totals: 18 4-7 44.
Pinewood – Morehead 1 0-2 3, Bade 1 3-5 5, Ciardella 2 0-0 6, Eackles 7 10-12 26, Seto 2 0-0 5. Totals: 13 13-19 45.
Three-point goals: Harvey 2, Burse (EP); Ciardella 2, Eackles 2, Seto, Morehead (P)
Records: Eastside Prep 21-8; Pinewood 24-5