The Del Norte girls basketball team took control of its Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 season opener late in the first quarter in Fortuna on Friday, and the Warriors held the Huskies at arm’s length for the rest of the game, finishing with a 53-39 win on the road.
Although it turned into a comfortable win for the Warriors, the game was close in the opening minutes. Del Norte took a lead in the opening minute and didn’t trail for the rest of the game, but Fortuna managed to keep pace, tying the game three times in the opening five minutes.
Fortuna center Charlotte Carroll proved to be a mismatch for the Warriors early on, scoring six of the Huskies’ first seven points as the Huskies stayed within a basket. Del Norte made a quick adjustment midway through the quarter, moving senior Kaleya Sanchez over to defend Carroll, and the move paid off.
“(Maykala) Jackson was doing a pretty good job on her; it’s just that our backside help wasn’t there,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton. “We switched things up and put Sanchez on her. I have always said that Sanchez is the most athletic kid in the league — she can play one through five. She went out there and shut their post down.”
After making the adjustment, Del Norte held Fortuna to just seven points for the last 11 minutes of the half after letting up seven points in the first four minutes.
Meanwhile, the Warriors’ offense started to hit its stride as Del Norte finished the first quarter on an 8-3 run, followed by a 5-0 run to push its lead up to 12 after Fortuna started the second quarter with a three-pointer.
“The first quarter was almost like a pickup game,” Clifton said. “We just came out flat. We were still winning, but we weren’t really following the game plan. We got some points on the board, but we were really running, and we should have had a lot more. In the second quarter our intensity picked up. We played pretty good defense and held them to just four points.”
The Warriors made it to halftime with a 15-point lead and held onto that advantage throughout the second half.
Clifton said the Warriors lost a little bit of their defensive intensity in the second half, but Fortuna wasn’t able to put together a run to pull back within single digits. Del Norte’s lead grew as large as 21 points in the fourth quarter before Fortuna hit a few three-pointers during a late surge to pull back within 14 by the final buzzer.
“We are playing very efficiently, but we just have to start playing for a full four quarters because the other team isn’t going to give up,” Clifton said.
Del Norte was led offensively by sophomore guard Bella Stone, who poured in a game-high 20 points while going 3-of-7 from behind the three-point arch and 6-for-12 from the field.
“Bella Stone had a breakout night,” Clifton said. “She was hitting her outside shots — once she got going from outside she was hard to stop.”
Sanchez also had a big night with 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Jadence Clifton also reached double digits in scoring with 12 points to go along with four assists.
Selene Ledezma chipped in with four points, while Jackson grabbed six rebounds for the Warriors. Aleesha Lenover came off the bench to draw two charges in the game.
With the win, the Warriors improve to 12-1 overall this season and are off to a 1-0 start in the Big 5. Although Del Norte has been hot to start the season, Clifton said the team is still learning how it needs to play after three-year senior starter Dennise Horton left the team in December.
“I like where we are at right now at 12-1, and the girls are pumped. I believe we are the team to beat in our league,” Clifton said. “A lot of these girls have been playing together forever, but realistically this team has only played three games together without our original roster. We have to do different things now, and we are doing just fine. But we have to pick up the effort and make sure we play for all four quarters.”
Clifton said it has been a total team effort to replace Horton, a starting center and one of the team’s go-to scorers.
“I’m really impressed with Bella Stone’s play. We had to pick the slack up losing one of our main scorers, and Bella has really picked the slack up — they all have,” Clifton said. “Maykala Jackson, Selene Ledezma, and Aleesha have been playing in that five spot, and the three of them are doing a great job. They are doing what I ask them to do.”
Del Norte will be back in action Wednesday with its first home game of the season, hosting Arcata at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m expecting the girls to really get after it in our home opener,” Clifton said. “I want to encourage everybody to show up and support these girls — it is one of the better Del Norte girls basketball teams that we have had. We finally have a home game 13 games in. So let’s pack the house.”
Clifton said the team plans to recognize Sanchez during the game, after the four-year senior starter surpassed 1,000 points in a recent game. Clifton said the team is still working on tallying her exact point total.