EUREKA — It doesn’t take long to locate the two Eureka girls basketball players who have scored over 1,000 career points.
Senior guards Tessa Leman and Natalie Bardwell work well together, and combined for 40 points in the Hornets' 68-46 win over El Paso-Gridley on Thursday night.
“I know you don’t see very many schools where they have two girls that have done that in their career,” said Bardwell, who scored 17. “I think it boosts our confidence that allows us to realize that we are a good team, not just us two, and we work together well.”
Leman is the reigning Journal Star small-school Player of the Year and, after sitting out the second quarter with two fouls, scored 16 of her team-high 23 points in the second half.
“You just get your confidence up and it just takes a few shots and then you’re feeling like you’re back in the game,” she said.
After digging a 12-0 hole without attempting a shot, the Titans battled back into the game and took their first lead (21-19) with 6:27 to play in the quarter. Senior forward Aubrey Staton was instrumental in the run and finished with a game-high 29 points.
“El Paso earned their way back into the game and took the lead,” Eureka coach Jerry Prina said. “El Paso’s a great team and Aubrey Staton might be a Player of the Year in the Bloomington-Peoria area.”
But with Leman on the bench, the Hornets proved they have other players that can step up, like Natalie Anderson and Morgan Greene, which combined to score 10 of 15 Eureka points that quarter.
A third guard, junior Courtney Heffren, had six assists in the win. “Courtney is a playmaker and she’s all about the team,” said Leman.
“Courtney and Tessa are my absolute best friends,” said Bardwell, who signed to play at Olivet Nazarene University before the game. “Having them by my side, I know that I have good solid teammates that know how to take care of the ball.”
Prina believes his team is peaking at the right time. The Hornets made it to the Sweet 16 of last year’s Class 2A state tournament, losing 55-48 to Sherrard.
“We’re hungry and we want more,” Leman said. “I think that we have state in the back of our minds but we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
While Leman (19 points per game) and Bardwell (12 ppg) lead the team in scoring, Prina notes the points haven’t come easy. He has four other players averaging at least seven points.
“On top of the fact that they’re both 1,000-point scorers, they’re not cheap 1,000-point scorers,” he said. “They’re earning their points and making their cuts, they’ve got the ball-handling skills to go with it, they’re sharing the ball really well and they’re involving everybody in the offense, so they’re really coming into their own.”
Bardwell is student-body president and played the lead in the school’s musical. Leman was nominated by United States Congressman Darin LaHood, was accepted to West Point.
“I just got my nomination (Wednesday), so if everything works out as it looks like it will, that’s where I’ll be going,” said Leman, who has been asked to try out for a walk-on position at Army according to Chad Leman, Tessa’s father.
Aaron Ferguson can be reached at 686-3207 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Sports_Aaron.