By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
The beginning of her career wasn't all that special for Hailie Eackles. The Pinewood girls' basketball team finished 19-10 her freshman year and lost in the semifinals of the Central Coast Section playoffs.
But, much like her game, it's all about finishing.
Eackles hopes to put the finishing touches on her career with two more victories, the first of which could come Saturday in the championship game of the CIF NorCal Division playoffs at Folsom High. Tip off is 1 p.m.
Eackles and her top-seeded Pinewood teammates will put their 26-5 record on the line against No. 3 seed St. Josephs-Notre Dame of Alameda (25-4). Pinewood is ranked No. 1 in the state in Division V and No. 29 overall, according to MaxPreps. St. Joseph is No. 2 in the state for Division V and No. 55 overall.
Eackles brings a 23.5 scoring average into the game, which will send the winner to the CIF State Championships the following Friday at ARCO Arena in Sacrament at 3:30 p.m. The NorCal winner will face either SoCal No. 2 seed Santa Clara (28-6) of Oxnard or No. 4 St. Bernard (23-14) of Playa de Rey.
How Eackles performs, of course, is crucial to Pinewood's hopes. In the past five games, which includes three CCS games and two NorCal contests, Eackles is averaging 28 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting .566 from the floor (51 of 90).
She has made 21 three-pointers while carrying the defending state champion Panthers closer to a second straight appearance in the state finals.
Pinewood and St. Joseph have met before, as recent as last year's NorCal quarterfinals that saw the Panthers come away with a 64-46 victory on their home court. This matchup, however, will be different with so much at stake.
"I've been watching a lot of film of the St. Joseph-Eastside Prep game," said Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler. "I learned we don't have anybody to guard the big girl."
The "big girl" is 6-foot-4 Carmen Lockhart, who takes up a lot of room on the floor and will cause both offensive and defensive matchup problems. She scored only five points in a 45-38 semifinal victory over Eastside Prep last Saturday, ending the Panthers' season at 22-9.
"We're giving away a lot of height," said Scheppler, who likely will have 5-8 Angelina Mapa on Lockhart. "The girl is just huge. She poses a problem. We're going to have to find a way to minimize her effectiveness."
Fortunately for Pinewood, St. Joseph plays a 2-3 zone.
"We average 11 threes, so we're going to get our shots, that's for sure," Scheppler said. The comparative scores indicate we should be better. It will be interesting, to say the least."
Pinewood hit 14 three-pointers in last year's win over St. Joseph and the Panthers likely will have to approach that Saturday, unless Lockhart gets into foul trouble thus allowing Eackles to drive and Kelsey Morehead to penetrate and dish.
"We played them at home (last year) and we shot pretty well," Scheppler said. "We actually took them out of their zone."
Perimeter shots will be Pinewood's starting point, but Scheppler said "We'll do everything to create a fullcourt game.
Eastside Prep did a nice job of limiting Lockhart, but the Panthers shot poorly and got into foul trouble -- 5-10 Kimberly Leu fouled out in the third quarter and senior Takara Burse got her fifth with 3 1/2 minutes to play. Senior Ahjalee Harvey scored 21 points to keep her team in it and sophomore Hashima Carothers grabbed 14 rebounds. Still, it wasn't enough.
Scheppler hopes to re-create Eastside's defensive effort on Saturday, using his team's speed to tire out Lockhart.
Even more important, however, is that St. Joseph will be playing in only its first NorCal final.
"This is their first big game," Scheppler said. "When you play these big games, nerves play a part.
"We've been here before. We've played (and won) this game before. I've had some great teams. These girls are playing great. They just rise to the occasion."
Scheppler hopes that's the case two more times, starting on Saturday.
"We're happy to be the only CCS girls' team still playing," Scheppler said.
Pinewood advanced with a 66-37 victory over Bradshaw Christian in the NorCal semifinals last Saturday. Eackles had 32 points and 10 rebounds with Morehead adding 14 points while fellow senior Miranda Seto had nine points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals.
The No. 2-seeded Pinewood boys, however, saw their season end at 23-6 following an 81-75 loss to University (San Francisco) in a NorCal Division V semifinal. Dante Fraioli and Cameron Helvey each scored 20 points while fellow junior Solomone Wolfgramm added 18.