Morro Bay High girls basketball coach Cary Nerelli paced the sideline before a Wednesday night road game against Templeton.
In the moments before the matchup between the two leaders of the early Los Padres League season, Nerelli acknowledged that he was “nervous.”
But not long into the action, it became clear the Pirates were gaining the upper hand.
Morro Bay (10-3, 4-0) won 58-26 against the Eagles (12-3, 2-1), seizing sole possession of first place in the LPL.
Morro Bay center Hannah Gilbert dominated the post with 10 first-quarter points. She scored a game-high 24 points.
Junior point guard Sierra Schwellenbach joined the party in the second quarter, using her speed and ball-handling to rack up seven of her 13 points in the contest. She also finished with seven assists and seven steals.
Morro Bay finished the half up 31-14 and 25 of the Pirates’ points came from Gilbert and Schwellenbach.
“That first quarter, we were able to dictate the pace and that really set the tone for the rest of the game,” Nerelli said. “They wanted to get out into transition and we were able to get back on defense. We know the next time we see them, they’ll be ready.”
The Eagles were led by Megan Hattar with nine points, and center Mari Stewart had seven, well below her 17 point per game average.
Stewart and teammate Autumn Russell had the tough assignment of trying to guard Gilbert down low and work inside against her on offense. Neither went well.
“We had matchup problems,” Templeton coach Shawn Koehler said. “They’re a very well-coached team and Hannah played really well. She’s a Division I college athlete.”
Gilbert, at 6-foot-2, was able to catch passes deep in the paint and displayed a skillful set of post moves, using both hands to finish layups as well as working her turnaround jumper.
“I’m very proud to win this game,” Gilbert said. “I was really pumped up and ready to go. I was so excited I was out of breath early in the second quarter.”
Gilbert said that she’s planning to attend a Cal Poly women’s basketball game this weekend. She’s already signed with the Mustangs.
But while she’s eagerly gearing up for her college career, Gilbert said she doesn’t want to get too far ahead of herself.
“I really want to focus on this season and what our team can do,” Gilbert said. “We want to win league and win CIF.”
According to Maxpreps.com rankings this week, Morro Bay is ranked ninth in Division 4AA behind powerhouses such as Oaks Christian, Bishop Montgomery and Serra.
Nerelli also noted the play of senior Carli Watt, who scored 10 points and drained two 3-pointers in the third quarter to build upon the Pirates’ lead.
“That was the best game of Carli’s season,” Nerelli said. “She played an outstanding game.”
For Templeton, it’s back to the drawing board, but Stewart remained optimistic. She said the Eagles will try to work out some kinks in practice and present a much tougher challenge to the Pirates later in the season in their second head-to-head matchup Jan. 30 at Morro Bay.
Improving ball movement and reducing turnovers will be two areas of focus, Stewart said.
“I think if we move the ball quicker and faster, and play together, that will open things up,” Stewart said. “This game was an eye-opener for us. When we play them again, I think we’ll do a lot better.”