By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
EDITORS NOTE: Sports Editor Bill Choy was at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex to watch Del Norte play the championship game in Florida early Saturday morning. Bill had already arranged a trip to Orlando with his family when he found out that Del Norte would be playing at a tournament there. He is pleased that serendipity had him and the Warriors at Disney World at the same time so he could see them play at the tournament firsthand.
ORLANDO, Fla. After a sluggish first half that had them trailing 15-12, clutch performances in the second half propelled the Del Norte High School boys basketball team to a 44-34 victory over La Quinta High of the Palm Springs area during an early Saturday morning game.
The win came in the championship game in the Donald bracket of the KSA Pre-Holiday Basketball Tournament at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World in the Orlando, Fla., area. The victory improved the Warriors to 8-0 for the year.
Senior guard Cliff Van Hook was clutch for Del Norte, going seven-for-seven from the free throw line in the second half.
He led Del Norte scorers with 16 points.
Senior post player Andrew Fallman came up big in the second half off the bench. Fallman made three baskets in a row.
Senior guard Chad Freeman chipped in seven points, as did junior forward Cody Hoffman.
The entire squad did an excellent job of playing tight pressure defense that completely took out and frustrated the La Quinta Blackhawks.
"I'm really proud of how we played in the second half," Warrior head coach Blaine Lopez said. "It took us a while to get going, but when they did, they came up big."
Having an early start to the game was a challenge, Lopez said. The game began at 9:45 a.m. EST, or 6:45 a.m. in Crescent City.
Playing at Disney
After playing teams from South Carolina and the Bahamas and defeating each of them in Orlando, Del Norte faced La Quinta. In all three games, the Warriors came out lethargically in the first half before having huge second half performances to win the games.
The three KSA basketball tournaments in the Orlando area this month will bring in more than 4,000 players. The tournament Del Norte was playing in included junior varsity and girls basketball teams24 in all.
"It's been an extraordinary experience for these kids to be here and take part in a tournament like this," Lopez said. "It was a great trip."
As the Warriors played their game on Saturday, players from other teams could be seen watching from the second floor of the complex, looking down at the proceedings.
The basketball court on which the Warriors played was one of four, all next to each other in a massive complex, bringing to mind the scene near the end of the 1984 film classic "The Karate Kid" where Daniel Laruso found himself in a giant gym buzzing with the activity of multiple events going on around him at the same time.
With four games being played at once, the arena rang with the sounds of buzzers, players going up and down courts and coaches yelling directions to their players.
All four courts were full at the same time Saturday morning, with large scoreboards throughout the complex to show how each game was progressing. Looking down on the proceedings from the rafters were banners of famous athletes from Jason Kidd to Alex Rodriguez with milk mustaches.
Both Del Norte and La Quinta were the only teams from California in the tournament so the crowd was very smallalthough a few vocal families and friends of the Warriors showed their support.
Play by play
In the first quarter, Van Hook started things on the right foot when he drained a three-pointer with 7:20 left in the first quarter.
And then things got a little bit ugly.
Both teams seemed to be finding their rhythm as they missed easy baskets and committed a number of turnovers and were unable to buy a basket. At the end of the first, the Warriors found themselves down 8-3.
"We came out flat," Lopez said,
In the second quarter, it was more of the same as Del Norte found themselves down by three. At the start of the second half, Hoffman gave Del Norte a shot of adrenaline when he went inside and made the basket to cut the lead to two.
But the moment was short lived, with La Quinta making key buckets to extend the lead to 19-14.
After a time out, Del Norte came out and seemed to come to the realization it was time to play Warrior basketball.
The comeback came in a hurry on a few key turnovers and shots with Del Norte down only 19-18. Then Freeman made a bucket and was fouled making the free throw to give Del Norte the 21-19 lead. The trend continued as the Warriors did not give the Blackhawks any easy shots.
Even when they tried to play tight defense, the Warriors were still able to break the press for the most part. And when fouled, they made their free throws as they took the win and the title.
"We came out and we attacked them on defense," Lopez said. "We got after them."
Competing in such a large tournament all the way in Florida proved to be a magical experience for him and his players, Lopez said.
He said it was nice to hang out with them outside the basketball court and share experiences with them like going to Walt Disney World and an Orlando Magic basketball game. Saturday night, the squad took part in a special event at Sea World for teams that participated in the tournament.
While Del Norte is undefeated and won the tournament, Lopez said he emphasized to the team they still have a lot to work on and can not get complacent in any way.
After all, they will have very little practice time before Thursday, when they play in the Enterprise tournament in Redding.
Lopez said the tournament will feature some very good teams, and the Warriors need to play the best they can to do well.