The season is over, but these Eagles are far from finished.
Sure, Wednesday’s 41-34 loss in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A second round to visiting Royal eliminated the Arroyo Grande High girls basketball team.
But with no seniors on the roster, every player on the roster will have a chance to rest and reflect this offseason before coming back next season another year wiser.
“This isn’t as heartbreaking,” as most season-ending losses, junior Olivia Galindo said, “it just makes us more excited for next year. We’re obviously bummed, but we played our hearts out tonight, so we’re not mad about that.”
Led by a dominant performance down low from sophomore Ashlyn Herlihy, the Eagles (12-15) stuck close to the fifth-seeded Highlanders (21-7) the entire game, even taking a 29-28 lead on a Herlihy bucket with 2:40 remaining before an 11-0 Royal run sealed the deal.
Herlihy finished with game highs in points (14) and rebounds (19) to go along with three blocks. She had all eight of
Arroyo Grande’s points at halftime and kept the Highlanders out of the paint all night.
“She really does a good job staying focused when she has a lot of big girls pushing on her,” coach Bryan Hutchens said. “She’s a special kid to coach because she’s just such a great kid.”
Junior Alaina Hogeboom pulled down 17 rebounds, and freshman Meghan Smith scored eight second-half points, including a 3-pointer early in the fourth to pull the Eagles within one, 24-23.
The Highlanders ran a full-court press after every made basket that forced Arroyo Grande into 11 first-half turnovers and never let the Eagles get into their half-court sets. Royal led 14-8 at halftime, and Arroyo Grande came out in the second half with improved passing to break the press.
“In the beginning, everyone was getting their jitters out,” Herlihy said. “Towards the end, we settled down and started making better passes.”
The Eagles finished with just one turnover in each of the final two quarters.
“That’s really the way we’ve played all season — when the going was tough early, we never gave up,” Hutchens said. “Tonight was just a micro of a macro. We do not give up. We just keep playing hard.”
Arroyo Grande entered the playoffs as the PAC 7’s fourth-place team but the only one in the league to defeat Pioneer Valley. The Eagles were unseeded in the playoffs, tasked with traveling to No. 12 seed Hemet in the opening round. After shutting down the top team in the Mountain Pass league to the tune of a 41-19 victory, they came home and held Royal to 15 points below its season average.
“I think we’re one of the best defensive teams — definitely on the Central Coast,” Hutchens said. “We showed that we’re a tough team.”
And with the entire squad coming back, the Eagles will have plenty more times to show it again.
“It was a really rough start (to the season), but we came together at the right time,” said Galindo, the team’s point guard and one of its captains. “Even though this was the last game of our season, we are so excited for next year. We’ve come so far, we’re playing really well and we can only grow from here.”