The Del Norte boys basketball team never trailed on Friday in Arcata, and the Warriors turned a close game into a comfortable 52-39 victory with a strong fourth quarter performance.

“I just thought that we played so hard,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “Our kids were physical and tough, and we just kind of played how we are going to play. We weren’t great on the offensive end — we missed quite a few easy looks — but defensively we were really good.”

The Warriors locked up the Tigers fairly consistently all night long, despite a tremendous size difference in Arcata’s favor in the paint.

“We were physical,” Lopez said. “They started four guys over 6-foot-4 and we have zero players over 6-4, but that is kind of how it has been all year. We haven’t used that as an excuse yet, and we sure as heck aren’t going to start now. We executed our defensive game plan very well, and I just thought that we were tough. Our kids were hard-nosed. I am very proud of them.”

Del Norte got off to a quick start in Arcata with a 10-0 run right off the bat. Senior Howard Soule got the run started with a three-pointer, and junior Ethan Price nailed another triple on the Warriors’ next possession following an offensive rebound by Nolan O’Kelly.

“I think jumping out on them early was big,” Lopez said. “It was senior night, and the girls played for a championship basically tonight, so the crowd was really good. It was big for us to jump out and grab an early lead and get the momentum. We actually had a pretty good crowd that came down tonight, too, and I want to thank all the people for coming down and watching. The boys really appreciate that.”

After nearly four minutes without scoring, the Tigers finally got on track midway through the first quarter and the Warriors led 15-8 at the end of the first quarter.

Del Norte once again grabbed control of the game early in the second quarter with a quick 9-3 run to open the period, pushed its lead back into double digits at 24-11, but the Tigers once again had an answer.

Arcata struck back with a 7-0 run in the last 2:22 and trailed just 24-17 at halftime. The Tigers continued their momentum in the second half, scoring the first seven points of the third quarter to tie the game up at 24-24.

Del Norte stopped the slide immediately, however, when senior Mason Mitchell nailed a three-pointer with the Warriors’ next possession. Sophomore Omar Banuelos hit a pair of free throws on Del Norte’s next possession to push the Warriors back ahead by five points heading into the final quarter.

Arcata twice cut Del Norte’s lead down to three points early in the fourth quarter, but a runner in the lane by senior Howard Soule with 6:30 remaining gave the Warriors a 5-point lead. Soule then stole the ball from the Tigers and found an open Damien Dowd for a layup, putting Del Norte ahead by seven points. After a three-pointer by Omar Banuelos with 4:58 remaining, Arcata was never able to get Del Norte’s lead back into single digits.

“We started making some shots (in the fourth quarter),” Lopez said. “We got stops and we made shots.”

With the win, Del Norte improves to 12-8 overall this season and moved to 5-2 in Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League play. The Warriors’ win over Arcata, coupled with a surprising 79-66 upset of first-place McKinleyville by Eureka, pushed Del Norte into a tie for first place in the Big 5 standings with the Panthers. McKinleyville will be coming to Crescent City on Wednesday for a showdown between the league’s top two teams.

“We have to show up on Wednesday,” Lopez said. “We are playing at home in front of our crowd, and it is basically to guarantee us at least a share (of the league title).”

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