It was an up and down game for the Del Norte boys basketball team in Arcata on Tuesday. The Warriors led for nearly the entire game, but each time they looked poised to put the game away the host Tigers came charging back to make the game close. In the end, Del Norte’s defense managed to secure the win on a big stand with less than 10 seconds remaining to hold off a late Arcata push and come away with a 54-52 victory.

Although Arcata struggled to a 6-9 record in their non league games, Lopez said the Tigers are much better than their overall record indicates, as their 2-0 start to the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 season shows.

“A win is a win, especially on the road,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “(Arcata) is really starting to play pretty well. They have a new coach (Dusty Scofield) and a new system, so it has taken them a little while to get going. They lost some games early that they might not lose now, and they had a kid that was injured who is now back.”

Still Lopez thought Del Norte could have done a better job of putting the game away when the Warriors managed to build some sizable leads throughout the game. Instead, Del Norte struggled with turnovers in many of those situations, and the Tigers were able to take advantage of the mistakes to come storming back into the game.

“We have to learn to be more consistent,” Lopez said. “It is the same stuff that we talk about all the time. We have really, really good spurts, and then we have just awful spurts, and it can’t be that big of a gap. We were fortunate (on Tuesday) because we really had the game in hand and we almost gave it away. We have got to learn to sustain that level of intensity, execution, and everything that we need to do.”

The Warriors got off to a strong start in the game and jumped out to an early nine-point lead. But a few turnovers at the tail end of the quarter allowed Arcata to come storming back and pull within two points heading into the second quarter.

Del Norte held a four point advantage at halftime, and came out strongly once again to start the second half. The Warriors managed to push their lead up to 11 points in the period. Once again, however, Arcata managed to force the Warriors into a few turnovers and closed to within four points heading into the final period.

In the fourth quarter Del Norte once again threatened to pull away for a comfortable victory.

Junior Omar Banuelos hit a pair of three-pointers and a jumper to give the Warriors a 51-42 lead with six minutes left in the game.

Arcata once again answered back with a fast break bucket, followed by a pair of steals and layups to pull back within one possession at 51-48 with 1:30 left on the clock.

With less than a minute left the Tigers pulled all the way within one point with a basket in the post to cut the Del Norte lead to 53-52. The Warriors followed that up by missing the front end of a one-and-one with 27 seconds left in the game to set up an exciting finish.

The Tigers had a chance to take their first lead of the second half in the closing seconds, but Del Norte’s defense came up big. Junior Eli Larson caused some havoc when his man set a screen, which forced an ill-advised pass that Damien Dowd stole with less than 10 seconds remaining.

“Eli Larson, coming off the bench, did a great job in that last possession,” Lopez said. “He came in with 27 seconds left and he hedged out on a pick and really frustrated them, and forced them into a mistake. That was obviously the possession of the game, because they had a chance to win the game there. You have to give him credit — that is a perfect example of someone being ready to come off the bench and contribute. That was awesome.”

Although Lopez said the Warriors were happy to get the win, he said the team will need to improve on its consistency moving forward, and find a way to put games away when they have the lead.

“We try to work on it, but a lot of it is us,” Lopez said. “We have to do a better job of understanding situations. We also need to understand that we have a system in place and we have got to try to stick to that system.

“We tend to try to freelance a little bit too much, and most of the time we do that it gets us in trouble. The bad thing is that we have a few good things happen and we thing that we can do that all the time. The good never outweighs the bad though. So we have got to learn that we need to be consistent in executing those things correctly every time.”

With the win, Del Norte improves to 11-4 overall this season and improved to 1-1 in the HDN Big 5 standings. Del Norte will be back in action today, taking on McKinleyville in Thunen Gym with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

McKinleyville comes into the game with a 7-9 overall record, but are off to an 0-2 start in Big 5 play.

“They are big, just like Arcata. So we really have to make sure that we hold our composure,” Lopez said. “They are scrappy and they are going to get after us. If we hold our composure and run things correctly we will have a good chance. If we don’t things could get ugly because they are hungry. They are 0-2, so they know that if they don’t win this game their chances of winning the league are very slim. So they are going to come and put it on the line — I promise you.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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