For the first time in her varsity basketball career, Templeton High senior Mari Stewart faced league rival Morro Bay without future Cal Poly forward Hannah Gilbert towering over her.
And for the first time in her career, Stewart’s Eagles got the better of the Pirates.
In a crucial midseason Los Padres League matchup that lived up to its billing, Templeton topped Morro Bay 49-45 in overtime on the road Wednesday.
According to coach Shawn Koehler, it’s the first time the Eagles (13-2, 3-0 LPL) have ever defeated the Pirates.
“I don’t even know if there are words for it,” Stewart said, “but it was past due.”
Stewart scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, but she was far from the lone Templeton senior that helped shake the Morro Bay monkey off the Eagles’ backs.
Marissa Torres scored 14 points, Paige O’Sullivan had seven points and nine boards, and classmate Briana Belmonte hit a straightaway 3-pointer early into overtime to give Templeton — winners of five straight — a lead it never relinquished.
“We’re just playing together and having fun — doing what counts,” said Stewart, who entered the game averaging 20.5 points and 17.8 rebounds per game. “It’s our senior year, and we just want to go out with a bang.”
The Eagles’ fifth senior starter, Autumn Russell, made her contributions on the defensive end, shadowing do-it-all guard Sierra Schwellenbach.
“She’s so fast, you’ve got to know where she’s at on the court at all times,” Koehler said of Schwellenbach. “Our goal was to slow her down, and we did a pretty good job of that with Autumn and a couple kids on her.”
Kara Schmidt scored a team-high 17 points for the Pirates (11-2, 4-1 LPL), who saw their six-game winning streak come to an end. Schwellenbach had 19 rebounds and five steals, but was held to 12 points by an aggressive Templeton defense.
“They ran a box-and-1 on us the whole time, and to Sierra’s credit, she didn’t let it get her down,” Morro Bay coach Jen Myers said. “She played with a lot of heart, and so did our whole team.”
Led by the 6-foot-3 Gilbert, the Pirates went undefeated in LPL play each of the past two seasons, including a pair of victories over Templeton last season by 30 or more points.
The Eagles got their revenge Wednesday, although they needed an extra four minutes to do so.
Morro Bay outscored Templeton 13-4 in the fourth to force overtime, but mustered just one field goal and four free throws in the extra frame.
“The message (after the game) was, ‘This hurts,’” Myers said. “I told them to let it hurt tonight, but come in the gym (today) ready to prepare for (next week’s game) against Lompoc.”
Stewart played the entire fourth quarter and overtime with four fouls, but didn’t let that stop her from using her 6-foot frame down low on the offensive end.
She opened overtime with a three-point play and scored another bucket with 26.4 seconds left on a feed from Russell that put the Eagles ahead 46-42.
“I just needed to be smart,” Stewart said. “Play with my head and not get any ticky-tack fouls.”
After Schwellenbach made a pair of free throws, the Pirates intentionally fouled Torres, who sunk one of two from the line, keeping it a one-possession game with 17 seconds remaining.
Morro Bay put the ball in Schwellenbach’s hands, but the 5-foot-10 senior couldn’t get a deep 3 to fall, and Belmonte made a pair of foul shots to ice the game.
Backup guard Vicki Roboz was fouled shooting a desperation 3 with 0.3 seconds remaining, and made one free throw for the Pirates to make the final 49-45.
After waiting three years, the Eagles’ seniors could wait 0.3 seconds more.
“In the end, having five seniors on the court, that was the difference,” Koehler said. “They had been in these situations before.
“But (the Pirates) will be ready the next time they play us, I know that.”
Morro Bay won the rebound battle, 42-38, but also turned the ball over four more times than Templeton, 22-18.
The Pirates had eight turnovers in the first quarter and nine in the third, and were outscored 24-10 in those two quarters.
“I think we got frantic,” Myers said. “We made some ill-advised passes, which can be on the passer or the pass receiver.”
Morro Bay pulled it together at the end of regulation, scoring 13 of the first 15 points in the fourth to take a brief 39-37 lead.
But Torres answered with a long two for the final points of the fourth, and for the first time in their history, the Eagles pulled out a win at Morro Bay.
“I knew this whole game was going to be a fight,” said Torres, who took a photo of the scoreboard after the game. “They came to play, but we came to play, too.”