The Del Norte girls basketball team has improved to 8-1 overall after picking up a pair of wins, one on Thursday and one on Friday at the round robin-style Hidden Valley Invitational, which is scheduled to wrap up today.

The Warriors opened play in Grants Pass with a hard-fought 47-39 victory over a North Marion team that is currently ranked No. 7 in Oregon’s 4A class. Del Norte followed that up with a one-sided 72-22 victory over Cascade Christian out of Medford.

Thursday’s game against North Marion featured an exciting battle in the paint as Del Norte’s forwards were tasked with containing another talented post player.

“It was another battle of the bigs,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton. “They had a really good post, and we have a couple good posts.”

Clifton said the game went back and fourth for most of the first three quarters before Del Norte was finally able to grab a little bit of breathing room.

The Warriors jumped ahead 37-31 heading into the fourth quarter and took the air out of the ball down the stretch to seal the victory.

“It was a tight game all the way through,” Clifton said. “We pulled away with it a little bit at the end of the third quarter and then kind of used Oregon’s rules against them with no shot clock. We were taking deep, long possessions, and they didn’t want to get out of their 2-3 zone.

“We made them have to get out of it and switch to man defense so we couldn’t run the whole game clock out. Then we just pounded it in to Dennise, and she was working. When she got doubled teamed we would get it over to Kaleya.”

Clifton said one of the main keys to the Warriors’ late third quarter run came down to its post play. North Marion took their star forward out of the game near the end of the quarter to take a rest and Del Norte managed to capitalize.

“We started throwing the ball inside and we were making our free throws,” Clifton said. “They had made a substitution to get their big girl some rest and we were using our speed. We got a couple rebounds and were able to grab a bit of a lead.”

Clifton said Del Norte finished the game 13-of-16 at the free throw line.

Horton led Del Norte with 21 points in the game, which was a season high for the senior co-captain until she eclipsed that point total on Friday.

Kaleya Sanchez added 10 points on Thursday for Del Norte, while sophomores Bella Stone and Jadence Clifton both chipped in eight points apiece.

On Friday Del Norte got off to a bit of a slow start against Cascade Christian, but finished the game strongly and managed to pull away for a comfortable victory. The Warriors held just a slim 10-9 lead after the first quarter, but held a 20-point lead at halftime that continued to grow throughout the second half.

“The score was close at the end of the first quarter, but then the girls woke up,” Clifton said. “We outscored them 21-2 in the second quarter. Then we came back in the second half and outscored them 15-7 and 26-4. It was just one of those games that is good to get in every now and then. We were able to get all of our bench players in.”

Clifton said Del Norte really started to pull away from Cascade Christian due to its defense. Meanwhile, the Warrior bench players were able to come into the game and continue to build upon the lead.

“We started throwing different defenses at them just to pick the tempo up — a couple traps here and there,” Clifton said. “It is always nice to get your second group in there, and they came in and played really well. Aleesha Lenover came in and took three charges — I am super proud of that, so I owe her three cheeseburgers.”

Horton once again led the Warriors in scoring with her second straight season high with 23-points on Friday. Sanchez scored 15 points for the Warriors while Stone scored 13 and Jadence Clifton added nine points.

Salene Ledezma and Aleesha Lenover both scored four points apiece, while Ashley Lenover and Maykala Jackson both chipped in with two points apiece on Friday.

Although the Warriors are now 2-0 in Hidden Valley, Saturday’s game against Banks is not a true championship game due to the round robin format. It is expected to be the toughest game of the tournament for Del Norte, however.

Banks features one of the top players in Oregon in Aspen Slifka. The 6-foot senior guard is the reigning Oregon Girls Basketball Class 4A player of the year after winning the award in her junior season and has the Braves, currently ranked No. 3 in their class in Oregon, off to a 6-0 start to the season.

“It is going to be a really good game,” Clifton said. “We are looking forward to the challenge (of playing against Slifka). Right now we are 8-1, and we would like to be 9-1 as we get ready for Brookings on Wednesday.”

Del Norte and Banks are scheduled to tip off at Hidden Valley at 3 p.m.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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