The Del Norte boys basketball team came out hot for its homecoming game, and it never let up against McKinleyville on Thursday in Thunen Gymnasium in Crescent City. The Warriors jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and continued to build onto their advantage throughout the final three quarters en route to a 68-39 victory over the Panthers.

“I thought that was the best that we have played all year for a complete game, hands down, on both ends of the floor,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “We executed much better offensively, and we were very, very good on the defensive end. It is the hardest that we have played.

“I’ve thought we have been playing hard, but maybe I have been fooled because that is the hardest that we have played all year. We have to have that effort every night — now they can’t fake me out.”

The game went back and forth for the opening 2:30 of play until Del Norte’s hustle started to pay dividends for the home team. Trailing 5-4, the Warriors’ strong defense sparked an 11-0 run that gave Del Norte a lead that it would never relinquish.

Del Norte junior Damien Dowd started the run when he managed to get a hand on a Panther pass, deflecting it out of bounds off of a McKinleyville player to force the first of five straight Panther turnovers.

Dowd hit a free throw to tie the game at 5-5. Then Nolan O’Kelly put Del Norte back in front with a steal on defense before hitting a runner on the other end. Ethan Price then grabbed a steal on McKinleyville’s next possession and found O’Kelly for a three pointer in transition.

Dowd picked up another steal on the Panthers’ next possession, and Anthony Slayton stole the ball off the dribble on the subsequent Panther possession, forcing the fifth straight turnover by McKinleyville.

The Warriors held an 18-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but Del Norte continued to pile it on as their lead steadily expanded throughout the second quarter, reaching a 19-point advantage at 37-18 at halftime.

Included with Del Norte’s hustle and quick hands, the Warriors were also diving out to get to loose balls throughout the game, especially in the second quarter. Lopez said he thought that those plays became contagious for the team, and it yielded several extra possessions throughout the game.

“We do it in practice, so that is kind of who we are and who we have to be,” Lopez said. “That really got us going tonight because it got us a couple extra possessions, and we were able to score on those possessions. When you think about that, those things are huge. Last week against Fortuna we had a couple that we didn’t get that they got, and they made us pay for it.”

The second half was more of the same, as Del Norte quickly pushed its lead above 20 points, where it remained for the final 15 minutes of the game.

“The effort was incredible, and they stuck to the game plan. We did things that we worked on, and they executed, and that is what it is all about,” Lopez said. “I’m really proud of our effort, for sure, and everybody contributed.”

Del Norte finished the game with nine of its 10 players scoring at least one basket.

“We were very unselfish, and I thought we made the extra pass every time,” Lopez said. “It is like everything else, it is contagious a little bit. It started going in, and then other shots started going in too.”

Price led all scorers with 20 points while Omar Banuelos added 16 points for the Warriors. O’Kelly put up 9 points while Judah Robinson chipped in 6 points.

Lopez said the packed stands in Thunen Gym also played a role, helping to fuel the Warriors intense play.

“I thought the crowd was terrific and got the guys going,” Lopez said. “It is a home game that we needed to win. We got beat at home once already, and we can’t give up another one. We have to work really hard and try to defend our home court, then try to steal another one or two on the road.”

With the win Del Norte improves to 12-4 while jumping above .500 for the first time this season in Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 play at 2-1.

The Warriors will be back in action on Tuesday when they head back on the road to Eureka to take on the Loggers. Eureka got off to a slow start to the season but have won their last two games, beating Hoopa and McKinleyville on back-to-back nights.

“They have some good bigs, and they are going to play hard,” Lopez said. “They are on a little bit of a roll, and have won a couple games in a row, so we are going to have to come out and play. Especially for us it is a long way to travel, so road games are tough — it doesn’t matter who you are playing.”

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