With a 49-45 victory last Wednesday night against hosting Laguna Creek, the Elk Grove Lady Herd earned themselves the championship in the Laguna Creek High School Summer Basketball League.
Trailing by 10 points at halftime, the Lady Herd appeared to have run out of gas, as the title game was the third of the night for Elk Grove. Five teams (Elk Grove, Laguna Creek, St. Francis, Sheldon and Christian Brothers) entered the night with identical 4-3 records in the summer league; however, the Lady Herd knocked off the Troubadours 38-22 in a play-in game to begin the night. Elk Grove would follow that up with a 49-36 victory over Sheldon in the semifinals to earn a spot in the championship game against the Lady Cardinals, who defeated Christian Brothers 56-48 in their matchup.
Playing in its third game of the evening, Elk Grove looked to be running out of steam while Laguna Creek seemingly had all the momentum despite playing two consecutive games. But then, incoming senior and team leader Rylie Hardin took over.
Scoring 10 of her team-high 12 points in the second half, Hardin sparked a remarkable 25-14 run by Elk Grove, culminated with five game-clinching free throws in the final minute to earn her team a championship trophy.
“I’m very proud of them,” Lady Herd head coach Trisha Campbell said afterward. “It was our third game of the night, we played back-to-back games earlier, and for them to grind this one out and play together showed a lot of heart.”
For Campbell, winning a summer league title is great, but at the end of the day, it’s all about improvement in every area.
“I really approach summer as it being more about individual development and getting them to gel as a team,” she said. “So we try to work on just the little things with them and try to build good habits. So there’s benefits in us just getting on the floor and playing together. Win or lose, I think we’re winning no matter what happens.”
Sophomore Zoe Tillery led Laguna Creek with 10 points in the contest. For Lady Cardinals’ head coach Cody Norman, losing the championship game in their namesake tournament stings, but being able to host the summer league and compete against teams with more experience is a plus for his team long-term.
“I told my girls in this setting you either win or you learn,” Norman said. “Our whole team here was either incoming sophomores or incoming freshmen. We were playing against juniors and seniors, and that one more year of experience on the court plays a big role in how Elk Grove was able to persevere through the second half.”
This was the fourth consecutive year that Laguna Creek hosted the summer league, and Norman views this year’s league, in particular, as a huge part of his team’s development as they are going through a youth movement.
“It’s definitely a time for coaching staffs to be able to see what groups are going to gel,” he said. “With us being so young, we have a lot of movable pieces. We can keep certain players down at the junior varsity level. But it also forces our hand. Since we don’t have juniors and seniors to fill spots, we’re depending a lot on our youth. Games like this are hard to teach in practice.”