By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
EUREKA It was another tight defensive battle between the Del Norte and Arcata High boys basketball teams during the championship of the Dick Niclai tournament Friday night.
After trailing by seven points in the third, the Warriors came back for the 35-30 win in the postseason tournament, played at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka. It was the second time in three years the Warriors have won the tourney. Eureka was the winner last season.
"I'm just so happy for the kids," Warrior head coach Blaine Lopez said. "They're the ones that go out and do the job. They were composed, especially in the fourth. We were able to hang in there."
To say the first quarter was a low scoring period of basketball would be a gross understatement.
With around 6:36 left on the clock, junior Cody Hoffman nailed a three-pointer for Del Norte to give them the 3-2 lead. That ended the scoring for the quarter for the Warriors.
It was truly a defensive battle as neither team could seem to get much of a flow on the scoring side of the ball.
Arcata did not fare much better, as the Warriors were able to slow them down on the offensive end. When the buzzer sounded at the end of the quarter, the Tigers led 6-3.
In the second quarter, the Warriors and Tigers continued to play tough defense, contesting shots and making sure neither squad got into an offensive rhythm of any sort.
After Arcata clawed its way to a 12-7 lead, the Warriors made sure the lead did not get out of hand when senior Cliff Van Hook drained a three-pointer to tie the game up. With the score tied at 14-14 junior Cole Lesley made a two near the end of the quarter to give Del Norte a 16-14 lead at the end of the half.
A poor several-minute stretch in the third period nearly doomed the Warriors.
The team could not buy a basket and got into foul trouble. Arcata took advantage and made open shots and free throws, leaping to a 25-18 lead.
When it looked like the Tigers were about to break out of their cages and wreak havoc, the Warriors made sure that did not happen and got back within one, 25-24, by the end of the third.
"We didn't throw in the towel," Lopez said.
At the start of the fourth, after Del Norte regained the lead by one, Arcata made a three-pointer. The Tiger lead did not last long as Hoffman made a clutch basket to knot things up.
Free throws then became crucial in the next few minutes, with both Van Hook and Saxon Schultz making their free throws in the back and forth battle to help Del Norte hold on to its narrow lead.
Van Hook put in a missed shot to give the Warriors a 34-30 lead with about a minute left, as Del Norte hung for on for the win and the tourney title. Van Hook finished with nine points
Hoffman led Warrior scorers with 15 points.
"He did everything we asked him to do," Lopez said. "We really needed him tonight."
Senior post player Andrew Fallman scored only two points but had several key rebounds and was a big defensive presence, which Lopez said was key for his team. Off the bench senior Trevor Rook was big, playing excellent defense and doing the little things to help the team, Lopez said.
By winning the Big 5 crown, Del Norte earned an automatic North Coast Section playoff bid. The team will find out on Sunday who they will face.
The NCS playoff game will be either Tuesday or Friday, with the possibility it will be played in Crescent City. Lopez said the top four seeds will play on Friday, but says he believes his team will probably not get one of the top seeds and will likely play on Tuesday.
Lopez said whoever they play will be a top-notch team and the Warriors need to be ready to go.
By Sunday afternoon, the seeds should be up on the NCS Website at www.cifncs.org.
Del Norte defeated Arcata for the third time this year, but it was never easy, to say the least.
On Jan. 16 at home, the Warriors won 51-47. On Jan. 31 in Arcata, the Warriors duked it out in a defensive battle in a 35-33 win over the Tigers.
"Anytime you beat a team three times in a season you've got to be happy," Lopez said. "Especially against a team like Arcata. We're fortunate to gain the win."
Del Norte is 18-5 overall, while Arcata dropped to 18-9.
A number of the Del Norte faithful attended the game. Lopez said it meant a lot for the players to hear and see the support in the stands.