In a senior year in which she eclipsed both 1,000 career points and rebounds, this was the achievement Templeton High’s Mari Stewart wanted most.
Two wins over rival Morro Bay and inches from a Los Padres League title.
Stewart scored a game-high 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds, and the Eagles all but ended Morro Bay’s reign atop the league with a 56-35 victory over the rival Pirates on Friday night.
“It’s what we all want as children; for our dreams to come true,” Stewart said. “It just feels so great.”
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Templeton needs to beat either Santa Ynez or Nipomo next week to win the championship outright.
But the hundreds in forest green who packed Thorndyke Gym were well aware what a season sweep of Morro Bay means.
The Eagles (20-2, 10-0 LPL) were 20-4 the past two seasons in league with all four losses coming to the Pirates.
This year, the tables have turned.
Morro Bay (16-3, 9-2) had won the past two LPL championships and split the title the year prior, but faced an uphill battle from the start Friday, playing without the services of do-it-all guard and emotional leader Sierra Schwellenbach.
Schwellenbach, who leads the Pirates in points, rebounds, steals and assists, was forced to miss the game with a stomach virus contracted two hours before tip-off.
“Not only is Sierra a great offensive and defensive player, she just lifts our spirits,” said Morro Bay coach Jen Myers, whose team can tie Templeton for the league title if the Pirates win at Lompoc and the Eagles drop their final two games. “We kind of lost that calmness that we have.
“Templeton’s just a great team, too. They are on a mission.”
Autumn Russell, normally relied upon to guard Schwellenbach, scored 13 points, including three of Templeton’s six 3-pointers.
“Since freshman year I’ve wanted to beat (the Pirates),” Russell said.
“And now we’ve beat them twice.”
Marissa Torres scored 11 points for the Eagles — nine in the first half — and fellow senior Paige O’Sullivan grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.
Olivia Mac Donald scored a team-best 10 points for the Pirates to go along with 13 rebounds, and Nikki Machado had nine points and 16 boards.
Kara Schmidt also scored nine points, but was held to just two in the first half.
“Our gameplan was the same; we just switched who we were guarding,” Templeton coach Shawn Koehler said. “We wanted to shut Schmidt down, since she’s such a good shooter.”
Without Schwellenbach running the offense, the Morro Bay attack struggled to get off the ground. The Pirates turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter and fell in an 18-5 hole heading into the second.
The Eagles got 3-pointers from four different players in the first half, including a second-quarter trey from senior Megan Hattar, who’s missed the majority of the year with a hand injury.
“She played a couple minutes a few games ago, but she’s still working her way back,” Koehler said. “It was nice to see her hit that 3.”
Hattar, a former starter, adds another shooter to a Templeton squad that has won 12 straight.
Following the victory, fans in the back row unveiled a large banner congratulating their team on winning the league title.
It might not be factually correct just yet, but there’s no doubt the largest obstacle has been hurdled.
“Morro Bay has always been the team to beat; this gets us over that hump,” Koehler said. “Now we’ve got to win one of two to stitch up a championship.”