Del Norte scores 26 points in fourth-quarter rally for 58-47 victory over McKinleyville

The Del Norte boys basketball team has had its fair share of troubles at the free throw line this year. The Warriors entered Wednesday's matchup with McKinleyville under 50 percent for the season at the charity stripe, but they came up big from the line to push a close game into a comfortable 58-47 victory in Thunen Gymnasium.

The Warriors went 13-of-15 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, including hitting all eight in the final 1:20 to secure the win and avenge one of just two losses in the first half of the conference season.

"That has kind of been our Achilles' heel to be honest," said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. "That was huge for us. We work on free throws a lot, but we haven't shot them very well. Obviously that was a huge difference in a game that was close until the last couple minutes."

After a fairly even opening quarter, Del Norte made its first move of the game. The Warriors began the second quarter with an 8-2 run to extend their lead to 9 points.

McKinleyville dug in in the third quarter and made a comeback. The Panthers started the quarter on a 9-4 run and ended it on an 8-0 run to grab a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"We had a horrible third quarter," Lopez said. "It was probably the worst third quarter we have had all year. Give them credit, they did a good job I thought. They hit some shots and we missed some of the shots that we made in the first half."

After scoring just 9 points in the third quarter, Del Norte exploded for 26 points in the final stanza. Junior guard Josh Gruden opened a killer 12-2 run with a jumper from the elbow and ended it with a three-pointer to give the Warriors their first double-digit lead of the night at 48-38 with less than 2 minutes remaining.

From there, the Warriors free throw shooting took over. Steven Maready, Napooi Shorty, Parker Dantzman and Joey Godla all hit both of their free throws down the stretch as Del Norte went 8-8 in the final minute of the game.

"I was really proud of the fourth quarter," Lopez said. "Again we could have thrown in the towel and given up, but this team is kind of gritty - I like it. They battled the whole time and we got them in the fourth."

Gruden finished the game with a game-high 22 points, including 11 points in the fourth quarter. Maready scored 9 points, Godla scored 8 and Dylan Pease chipped in six for Del Norte in the win.

The Warriors travel to Eureka on Friday for a huge Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 match up. Del Norte is 9-8 overall this year and 4-2 in the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5. The Loggers are 3-2 in the HDN Big 5 and the winner will have the inside track to grabbing the second seed in the conference tournament.

"We are playing to see if we get to be at home or on the road when the tournament gets here, so it is a big game," Lopez said. "They are very good, they are playing well. We are going to have to go down and play as well as we can to give ourselves a chance."

Reach Michael Zogg at