The Del Norte girls basketball team trailed for just one tenth of a second, but ended up taking a heartbreaking loss on the road in Arcata on Friday, falling 66-65 to the four-time defending Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 league champions.
The Warriors dominated the game early on, jumping out to a 19-point lead at halftime, but the Tigers steadily fought their way back into the game throughout the second half. Arcata’s Breesia Northern drew a questionable foul on a last-second half court heave at the end of regulation, and made all three free throws to complete a stunning second half comeback.
Del Norte didn’t have enough time left to get a shot off after the inbound.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton. “We had a big lead at halftime, but we knew that Arcata wasn’t going to give up because it was a league championship game.”
After committing over 30 turnovers against Arcata in Crescent City last month, the Warriors took much better care of the basketball. In fact, it was the Tigers that were plagued by turnovers, especially in the early-going with seven turnovers in the first eight minutes.
Del Norte struggled to make some easy shots in the first half, but dominated on the glass as it jumped out to a 17-2 lead in the first quarter. The Warriors grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone, en route to 14 offensive rebounds in the first half.
Forwards Dennise Horton and Kaleya Sanchez were particularly impressive as the Warriors built their big early lead, with the junior duo combining for 21 points. They accounted for most of the Warriors’ offensive boards as Del Norte raced out to a 31-13 halftime lead.
“Dennise had an absolutely amazing game,” Clifton said. “She is the best player in this league. If anybody doesn’t agree with that then they don’t know basketball. Kaleya had a huge game tonight too with 22 rebounds.”
Meanwhile, senior forward Claire Smith provided shutdown defense on Arcata’s star senior center Kaylie McCracken, who is the Big 5’s reigning MVP. Smith was forced to the bench early in the second half, however, picking up her fourth foul just a couple minutes after halftime, and McCracken started to get on track.
McCracken scored 11 points for the Tigers in the third quarter alone. Arcata also started to establish itself on the boards against the smaller Warriors, not allowing Del Norte nearly as many offensive boards in the second half. With their star player established inside, Arcata started to heat up from behind the three-point line as well and quickly started scrapping its way back into the game.
Arcata outscored Del Norte 25-8 in the third quarter to cut the Warriors’ lead to nine points heading into the final period.
The Tigers continued to cut into the Warriors’ lead in the fourth quarter and tied the game for the first time since it was 0-0 at 59-59 with just three minutes left to play with a steal and a layup by McCracken.
The tie didn’t last long, however, as Del Norte freshman Jadence Clifton was fouled on the ensuing inbound play and went to the free throw line where she put the Warriors back ahead 61-59.
Clifton hit two more free throws with 1:48 left in the game, followed by two more by senior Payten Healy with 50 seconds remaining to put Del Norte back ahead 65-59.
After a pair of free throws by Arcata, the Tigers were able to get a quick steal and a layup to pull back within two points with just 25 seconds remaining.
Del Norte protected the ball down the stretch, but missed a short jump shot with the shot clock running low and about four seconds left in the game. Arcata then got the break that it needed with the Warriors being whistled for a foul on Northern’s last second desperation heave from about 40 feet away.
By the end of the game, Del Norte was hampered by foul trouble with four of the Warriors starters saddled with four fouls for most of the fourth quarter.
“McCracken was able to get inside and we started to get into foul trouble,” Clifton said. “We were able to slow the game down and down the stretch we did pretty well. I told the girls to just keep their heads up. The players didn’t do anything wrong.”
The loss drops the Warriors to 13-7 overall this season, and 4-2 in the HDN Big 5 this season. Arcata’s win puts the Tigers all alone in first place in the Big 5 after back-to-back wins over Del Norte and Eureka. The Warriors and Loggers are now tied for second in the Big 5.
“The goal now is to win out and to meet back up with Arcata in the Nikolai championship game at Humboldt State,” Clifton said.