EUREKA • Playing for a newly christened trophy in a rivalry game against nearby foe Lafayette, Kate Hillyer and the Eureka girls basketball team had another game on their mind.
Namely, the Wildcats' five-point loss to the Lancers in the Class 5 District 4 tournament last season.
Trailing by a point at halftime, Eureka powered its way past Lafayette in the second half to secure a 59-54 win and the coveted Highway 109 trophy on Saturday.
It was just the Wildcats' second win in the last five tries against their district rival and marked the first time the schools played for the traveling trophy named for the thoroughfare that connects the schools.
“Last year, we lost in districts to them, so it's been in the back of our heads all season,” said Hillyer, who led Eureka with 16 points. “We've pulled out articles about that loss. We've really wanted to win this. Just getting to have that physical memorabilia of that it means to win against a rival like that is really important to us.”
Eureka (12-11 overall, 2-4 Suburban Red) used a strong third quarter on both ends of the floor to make the difference.
Facing a 33-31 halftime deficit, Eureka rode a 16-4 spurt to take a 47-37 lead entering the final quarter. Four players scored in the third for the Wildcats, who also held Lafayette senior Tara Robbe scoreless over eight minutes.
Robbe finished with a game-high 20 points, but Eureka coach James Alsup praised the way his team forced her into foul trouble and eventually to the bench.
“Robbe's a really god player but her foul trouble was to our benefit,” Alsup said. “With her off the floor, we kept scoring and we were better defensively because we didn't have to focus on her so much.”
Lafayette (11-9, 2-3) went 1 of 8 from the free-throw line, making it difficult for the Lancers to keep up in the second half.
“We didn't make free throws,” Lafayette coach Denise Meyer said. “If we could have made some, the game could have been different. (Eureka) did a great job. Their game plan was great. We also put ourselves in that position by not playing good defense and reaching. You get yourselves into foul trouble and there won't be much you can do from the bench.”
Junior forward Natalie Archambault finished with 13 points and junior guard Annika Herbert added 10 for Eureka.
Lafayette senior Sidney Wolf had eight points.
The teams could meet again in the Class 5 District 3 tournament at Lafayette. Eureka will play Washington at noon next Saturday in the first round. The winner will play Lafayette at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.
“We know it's going to take everybody because we know Robbe is their big person,” Hillyer said of the possibility of playing Lafayette again. “We know not one person can beat five girls. We focused on her and that is (what we'd have to do again). Again, they ended our season last year and we really want to do our best against them.”