By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
CRESCENT CITY Back in the friendly confines of Thunen Gym for the first time in 2008, the Del Norte High boys basketball team earned a hard-fought win against Arcata Wednesday night in Big 5 Conference action.
Coming together as one unit after struggling in the first quarter, several Warriors played crucial roles in the win in front of a standing room only home crowd.
The gym rocked with excitement when Del Norte made key plays and the boo birds could be heard loud and clear when the crowd thought bad calls were made.
Senior Cliff Van Hook showed why he is a feared shooter, making six three-pointers, and three crucial three-pointers in the second half to score 24 points for the game.
Junior Cody Hoffman was a presence on defense, making key turnovers and was an inside force on offense. He scored 15 points. This iron man also never came out of the contest, playing all 32 minutes.
Junior Brock Coulson was clutch in the post after starter Saxon Schultz came out with foul trouble in the second quarter with three fouls. He played well on defense and made several key baskets and finished the game with seven points.
Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez commended his entire squad for playing tough and making key plays when needed to secure the conference win.
" It was a lot of fun," Lopez said. "The kids executed well. If you want to compete in this league you have to defend your home court and we did."
The victory improves Del Norte to 12-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference to take control of the top of the standings once occupied by the Tigers, who fell to 12-7 overall and 2-1 in the conference.
The game started out solid for Del Norte who took a quick 7-2 lead with 4:30 left in the first.
But Arcata senior guard Jordan Bianco made a few key three-pointers, and the Warriors started to go cold from the floor as Del Norte trailed at the end of the quarter 13-10. Bianco finished with 24 points.
In the second quarter, Aracta started to pull away and led 19-11 with more than five minutes left in the half.
The game proceeded to go back and fourth, with Del Norte whittling the lead down, but Aracta, usually on a score by Bianco, held on to the lead.
By the end of the half, Del Norte had the lead down to 26-24.
At the start of the third quarter, the game became a true defensive battle as both squads threw their bodies across the court, diving for loose balls and pounding the glass for the rebound.
By the end of the third, Del Norte had taken a 38-36 lead. This included two key scores by Coulson, who sank two free throws and made another basket.
In the fourth, Del Norte started to find its rhythm, as Hoffman muscled his way for key points and Van Hook made key shots from the outside
Up 38-37 with more than five minutes remaining, Van Hook made both of his free throws and a short time later a key bucket to give the Warriors a 42-37 lead as the home crowd made quite the racket in celebration. The crowd went even more crazy later when Van Hook made an open three-pointer with 3:29 left to give the Warriors an 46-38 advantage.
"We were really battling in the second half," Lopez said.
But Arcata showed why they are considered one of the elite Big 5 teams, continuing to play pressuring defense, going hard at the boards and looking for open shots.
With 1:17 left in the game, the Tigers drained a three-pointer for the to cut the lead to 46-42.
With less than a minute left, senior guard Chad Freeman was fouled and went to the line. Unable to score up to that point, he calmly nailed both free throws to find the perfect time to make his first points of the evening. The Warriors led 49-44, as Del Norte held on for the win.
While the Warriors shot only 9-for-18 from the free throw line in the game they made their points from the charity stripe when it counted the most, going 6-for-8 in the final period.
Lopez said the enthusiastic and loud home crowd was nice to have in a game like this.
"We had a great crowd," he said. "The kids are so happy to be home."
The Warriors next play on Friday on the road against McKinleyville at 7:30 p.m.