Del Norte downs Panthers 56-54 to tie for 2nd in the Big 5
It was a true Big 5 Conference clash in Crescent City Thursday night as the Del Norte High Warriors prevailed 56-54 over the McKinleyville Panthers in the regular season finale.
With the victory the Warriors tied for second place in the Big 5 with the Panthers at 5-3. The two teams will meet again in McKinleyville on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Dick Nicali Memorial Tournament, a postseason event, which features squads from the Big 5 and Little 4
Since the two teams were tied there was a coin toss after the game to see where the contest would be played, with the Panthers coaches calling heads, which turned out to be the right call.
In front of a packed to the rafters crowd, Del Norte ensured the victory with a series of plays that caused the crowd to rush in celebration to the court after the contest.
With Del Norte down 54-52 junior point guard Layton O'Reilley nailed a jumper to knot things up with around 32 seconds left.
A short time later, the Warriors were called for travelling with around 23 seconds left that had the crowd booing with passion.
The Panthers played for the last shot, looking for the victory.
With around 10 seconds left O’Reilley caused a turnover, snatched the ball and raced down the court. He threw a pass to senior Zach Hegelmeyer next to the basket as he put the ball in with around four seconds left to give Del Norte the lead. McKinleyville could not score as Del Norte earned the dramatic win. The student section stormed the court and lifted Zach on their shoulders around the gym in celebration.
“That was a dream come true to make the winning shot in a big game,” Hegelmeyer said, adding it was something else being lifted around the court by the fans. “It was like I was riding on a cloud right there.”
After losing by one in overtime in their first meeting assistant coach Jeff Cook said it was great to see his team step up when they need to and get the win.
“We knew it was going to be a close game going in,” he said, “but this time we made shots.”
In the first quarter the Warriors raced to a 15-11 advantage and by the half were up 32-28.
A huge factor in the Warriors doing so well was in the outstanding play of junior Nick McBride. He was truly on fire as he weaved his way for shots inside and made four three- pointers. He finished the first half with 19 points.
In the second half, Cook said the Panthers started to confuse Del Norte with a mixture of both man and zone defense and quickly got back into the game. and were up 44-42 at the end of the third.
The Panthers were up by as much as six in the final period before the Warriors mounted the comeback. The Panthers did a good job of shutting down McBride, who had only two points in the second half to finish with a game high 21 points.
Cook said a key was the play of senior post player Chris Scott inside, especially in the second half. He finished with 13 points.
Del Norte improved to 10-11 overall while the Panthers fell to 16-6.
Cook commended his team for their outstanding play on defense and said when they were struggling a bit getting points in the second half the defense was the reason the Warriors stayed in the game.
“O’Reilley had 11 points as three Warriors finished in double figures. Hegelmeyer had six points, while Michael Johnson had three points and Brandon Kakitsuka had two points.
Logan Kiff led Panthers scorers with 15 points.
At halftime Jay Bhatt was named the winter homecoming king.
In the junior varsity game Del Norte lost 53-50 in overtime.
This was the Warrior varsity team’s second straight game they were without head coach Scott Alexander.
His mother Karen recently had emergency surgery and Scott is at her side.
Cook, who is the interim head coach, said he heard Scott’s mom is improving and there is a chance he would coach the team on Monday.
“We want to win one for Scott and his family,” senior Zach Hegelmeyer said about tonight’s game.
Cook said that the squad has been struggling as of late with its shooting and needs to try to get back into the shooting groove of a few weeks back. A key, he said, is for the squad to get the ball into the hands of starting senior post player Chris Scott, who has been hot lately. This includes a 19-point performance in a win against Fortuna last week.
Scott said he and his teammates understand the importance of finding a balance between shooting from outside and getting the ball inside during tonight’s game. They understand that the more balanced their attack is the harder they will be to stop, Scott said.
“I’m excited to play in front of the home crowd one last time,” Scott said.
On defense, the Warriors have been solid all season, and Cook said he expects it to continue to be a strength tonight. To him, the team has to put pressure on the Panthers and keep them off-balance offensively.
Hegelmeyer, who is known as a defensive specialist for the team, said he and the rest of the players know they can’t give McKinleyville easy shots and that they need to be aggressive and “crash the boards.”
The varsity game begins at 7:30 p.m. The freshman game starts at 4:30 p.m. and the junior varsity game is at 6 p.m.
At home on senior night Del Norte High won 46-41 over the Fortuna Huskies in Big 5 Conference action.
After shooting lights out the past two games and winning by 34 and 27 points, Thursday’s contest was anther matter.
The Warriors struggled mightily from the floor, clanking shot after shot from outside and missing free throws, including five in the final quarter.
But senior post Chris Scott helped to save the day with his play on both offense and defense.
On offense, Scott muscled his way inside for needed baskets and made crucial free throws towards the end to pace the team with 19 points.
Another key was the Warrior defense, which clamped down on the Huskies and gave up only nine first half points.
“It was great, ” Scott said about earning the win. “We are now two up,” in the Big 5.
Del Norte improved to 4-2 in the Big 5 and are 9-10 overall and are in the thick of the conference race while the Huskies sank to 1-6 in the Big 5 and 8-13 overall.
The Warriors are currently tied for second place in the Big 5 with McKinleyville.
Warrior head coach Scott Alexander said it was a great feeling to get the win despite not being able to hit shots.
He said this was a true Del Norte Warriors style of basketball game, where great defense and inside play led the way.
“We have been hot lately but we didn’t shoot well tonight,” Alexander said. “We won because of Chris and our defense because everything else wasn’t very good.”
The game was not pretty from the start as shots kept smacking the rim, and turnovers and other miscues were rampant on both sides.
By the end of the first quarter the Warriors were up by a measly score of 6-4.
By the end of the half the Warriors had extended the lead to 18-9.
At the start of the second half the Warriors got cold from the field and the Huskies started to heat up a little bit and took a 19-18 lead with under four minutes remaining in the third period.
At the end of the quarter Del Norte was up only 27-25. In the fourth quarter the game became a ping-pong type of affair as both teams exchanged baskets while the crowd got more vocal as the contest went into crunch time.
With Del Norte up 42-38 the Huskies drained a three-pointer with under a minute left to cut the lead to 42-41.
With 9.2 seconds left junior Nick McBride was fouled and went 1-for-2 to extend the lead to 43-41. Scott rebounded the missed second shot, was fouled, and made both free throws. The Warriors made one more free throw at the end to seal the five-point victory.
McBride finished in double figures with 10 points. Scottie Skeen had seven points while Travis Stacey and Brandon Kakitsuka each had three points; Zach Hegelmeyer and Barrett McClaflin finished with two points each.
Thursday night was also senior night as members of the basketball, drill and cheerleading teams were honored before the game.
This year’s Warriors basketball seniors are Hegelmeyer, Michael Johnson, Scott and Skeen.
Del Norte won the freshman game and cruised to a 53-34 victory in the junior varsity contest.
On Tuesday the Warriors face Arcata on the road. The Warriors end the regular season next Thursday at home against McKinleyville.