After a back a forth first three quarters, the Del Norte girls basketball team just ran out of gas in Eureka, as St. Bernard’s was able to get to the free throw line almost at will. The Crusaders knocked down enough freebies to pull away late for a 50-40 victory in the semifinals of the Niclai Tournament.
The Warriors were far from full strength coming into the game. Sophomore forward Selene Ledezma was the only player unable to make the trip to Eureka on Thursday due to illness, but Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton said three more of the Warriors were fighting off illness.
“We had a lot of girls sick, and they were trying to get through that,” Clifton said. “I don’t think we looked past St. Bernard’s, but we just didn’t show up to play. Girls were sick and I thought there were a couple bad calls in there, but that is part of the game.”
Despite battling illness, the game went neck and neck for most of the night. Del Norte jumped out to an 8-7 lead in a first quarter that saw three ties and three lead changes while neither team held an advantage greater than three points.
The Warriors built their biggest lead of the game in the second quarter, pulling ahead by nine points on a post move by Dennise Horton to go ahead 16-7, but the Crusaders ripped off six straight points to bring the game back within a possession.
Del Norte led 22-20 at halftime, but St. Bernard’s tied the game up immediately in the third quarter. Junior Kaleya Sanchez got hot late in the third quarter, however, scoring 8 of the Warriors’ last 10 points in the period to keep Del Norte ahead 37-36 heading into the final period.
The wheels came off for the Warriors in the fourth quarter. St. Bernard’s scored with its first possession of the period to retake a slim one-point lead. Then Horton, Del Norte’s leading scorer and one of its top rebounders, fouled out of the game with 6:09 remaining on a charging call.
Despite getting several open shots, Del Norte wasn’t able to score in the fourth quarter until Payten Healy hit a pair of free throws with about two minutes left in the game, but at that point the Warriros were already behind by nine points.
“They have got to learn to play without Dennise when she is not in the game,” Clifton said. “And they know how, but it’s tough because we missed a lot of shots.”
Clifton said he thought the team looked more tired than usual, partly due to sickness and a short bench, in the final period.
“Our shooting was pathetic,” Clifton said. “We played good defense, though, for what it is worth.”
Defensively, the Warriors allowed only six field goals in the second half and just two in the fourth quarter, but Del Norte couldn’t seem to keep the Crusaders off of the free throw line.
St. Bernard’s finished the second half with 26 free throw attempts, accounting for 19 of the Crusaders’ 30 points after halftime.
The loss drops Del Norte to 15-9 overall this season, but the Warriors will almost certainly have at least one more game to play when the North Coast Section Division IV brackets are released on Sunday. Although the Warriors lost to a Division V team in St. Bernard’s Thursday, it didn’t effect the team’s ranking. Del Norte is still ranked fifth in the division by maxpreps.com’s playoff prediction model.
“I don’t think (this loss) is going to hurt our seeding too badly, because we did beat Eureka,” Clifton said. “I am expecting us to get the fifth seed, but who knows. We will see what happens. I think what is saving us right now is that we had a very tough preseason schedule, and our league is very good this year too. In eight out of our nine losses the other team has been ranked higher than us, or they were a bigger school than we are.”
With the fifth seed, Del Norte would host its first-round game unless it gets matched up with a team that won its league this season.
With several players still sick on Friday, Clifton said he gave the team the day off. Del Norte’s main focus over the next few days will be to get healthy.
“We are just going to be drinking some DayQuil. I’m just giving them some rest,” Clifton said. “I don’t care what you work on, if you are sick there isn’t much that you can do. Hopefully the girls can get rested up and ready to go for next week.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .