By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
CRESCENT CITY It had been a spotty free throw shooting night by the Del Norte High basketball team when Cliff Van Hook made his free throws when they counted the most.
The senior guard sank four crucial shots from the charity stripe in the final two minutes to help the Warriors to a 48-47 squeaker against Eureka at Thunen Gym Tuesday night in a crucial Big 5 Conference match-up.
Before the free throw surge, the Warriors were shooting only 3-for-10 from the free throw line.
No free throw was more crucial than the one that came with only 20.8 seconds left in the contest. Del Norte was down 47-46 and the capacity crowd held its collective breath as Van Hook calmly drained both shots to give the Warriors the lead for good. Eureka was able to get one last shot at the buzzer, but it was no good.
Van Hook led Warriors scorers with 13 points, while Cole Lesley had 10 points and Cody Hoffman and Andrew Fallman each had eight points.
Del Norte improves to 3-1 in the Big 5 and 13-3 overall while Eureka drops to 2-2 in the Big 5 and 13-8 overall.
This needed win for Del Norte comes on the heels of an upset loss to McKinleyville on the road in double overtime on Friday.
Warrior head coach Blaine Lopez commended his team for playing tough and hanging on for the victory.
"It was a must-win for us," he said.
It was a game where Lopez said he experienced the full range of coaching emotions. There was times where he thought the team played the best they had all year and other moments when he believed it was the worst they had played all year.
"I don't think I can fault their effort," he said. "If we can ever put together a whole game it will be fun to watch."
The game began with both teams keeping toe-to-toe with each other as the score read 11-10 at the end of the first in favor of Del Norte.
At the start of the second quarter, the Warriors went on an offensive tear and quickly raced out to to a 16-10 lead with 6:40 left on a Lesley three-pointer. With 3:34 left before the half, Hoffman drained a jumper to give Del Norte a 20-12 lead. At the half the Warriors had a 24-18 lead.
Del Norte held Logger sharp shooter Greg Allen, last year's Big 5 MVP, to only six first half points all in the first quarterand only 15 for the game, well below his season average of 20.9.
"He's a great player," Lopez said about Allen. "It was a team effort to make things tough on him."
While the first half went fairly well, things started to fall apart in the second half as Eureka slowly chipped away at the lead.
A big factor was sophomore post player Levi Jones of Eureka who made several key shots inside, outrebounded Del Norte on many occasions and made needed free throws on his way to a 15 point game.
With 1:05 left in the third, Allen scored, was fouled, and made the free throw to give Eureka a 35-34 lead.
The Loggers held on to the lead at 37-36 at the end of the third. The contest went back-and-forth for most of the fourth with neither team able to break the game open. Van Hook tied the game at 44 on two free throws with 2:28 left.
The contest got even more dicey for the Warriors as Eureka had the win in sight when sophomore Demarcus Coleman nailed a long-range three pointer with 1:30 left to give the Loggers a 47-44 lead. But Van Hook made a two from the floor and his crucial free throws at the end to help Del Norte to the win.
Lopez said a weakness for his team was their inability to consistently grab rebounds on both ends of the court.
"We can't let that happen again," he said.
Eureka head coach Duane Peterson said while his team battled all night they couldn't come up with the needed win.
He added that any game against Del Norte always seems to bring out the best in both teams.
"Every time it's like electric," he said. "It was like that tonight."
Del Norte next plays on Thursday at home against St. Bernard's at 7:30 p.m.