A fire has been built under the Eastern Washington women’s basketball team, fueled by the play of redshirt freshman Haley Hodgins.
With the Pasco product scoring a career high 22 points this past Monday in a 68-56 Big Sky Conference victory at Portland State, the Eagles have now won three straight games. This past week Eastern (6-3 Big Sky, 10-8 all games) collected a pair of home-court victories, 75-72 Thursday over North Dakota and 63-38 versusNorthern Colorado last Saturday. Eastern gained sole possession of third place and moved within striking distance of conference leaders Montana (7-1, 13-4) and Montana State (6-2, 12-5) with a single game Saturday at 2:05 p.m. versus Southern Utah.
In each of the Reese Court contests, Hodgins played big parts, too. She had 16 points against NDU and 17 against Northern Colorado where she was perfect from the field, 7 for 7 from the field and 3 for 3 from 3-point range.
“She’s come on like gangbusters,” EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said. “She’s doing things that we’ve seen her do for the last year and she’s gotten better and better at it.”
Hodgins, who had her breakout games on the Eagles’ recent road trip to Northern Arizona and Sacramento State where she scored in double-figures in each game, was named Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, hit 4-of-8 shots from beyond the arc and was a perfect 4-of-4 at the free throw line.
“Now I think she’s got confidence in herself and her teammates have that confidence,” Schuller said of the Chiawana High School product. “She’s really done a good job of taking what’s there. She’s not forcing anything and we’re not forcing anything at here.”
Senior Carrie Ojeda had a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Eagles.
The Eagles led 34-30 at the half and surrendered that lead just once in the second 20 minutes.
“I thought things looked a little stagnant in the first half, so I wanted to find some ways to infuse some energy into us in the second half,” Schuller said. “We started to press a little bit and push the tempo offensively, and that seemed to work for us.
After the Vikings closed to within 55-52 with 5 minutes, 18 seconds to play, Eastern went on a 6-0 run on back-to-back 3-point shots from Chenise Pakootas and Hodgins to go up 61-52 with 3:52 to play.
Eastern set the tone early Saturday converting five of its first seven shots, including a perfect 3-of-3 from 3-point range. By the midway point of the first half the Eagles had a 21-10 lead. It only got worse for the Bears (4-3, 7-9).
The Eagles closed out the half on a 13-0 run, and led 42-17, shooting 65 percent from the field. The pace slowed a little in the second 20 minutes with the teams each scoring 21.
Eastern shot just 2-of-7 3-point attempts, but Northern Colorado was 0-of-13 from beyond the arc and just 7 of 23 in field goals. Eastern got 11 points each from Laura Hughes and Nelson.
The 38 points put up by UNC were the fewest points by an EWU opponent in more than two years.
Thursday’s win over North Dakota finally got Schuller to the 150-win mark in her 12-year Eastern coaching career. But it was a struggle as the Eagles trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half.
A big 3-pointer from leading scorer Lexie Nelson sparked an Eagle comeback in which Eastern went on a 12-1 run to knot the score at 47-47.
Along with Hodgins, Nelson topped her team with 19 points while Ojeda finished with a season-high 17 points and eight rebounds. Kylie Huerta pitched in with 13.
With Thursday’s win, Eastern snapped a three-game losing skid in conference play.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.