A pair of missed free throws by the Del Norte girls basketball team with 5.9 seconds left gave South Medford new life, and a banked shot from the half court circle at the buzzer sent the game into overtime. From there the Panthers, ranked No. 3 in Oregon’s largest division, were able to pull out a competitive 79-76 road win over the Warriors in Crescent City on Saturday.

“A half court shot — you know what, if you are going to lose on that, then that is the way it is going to be,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton. “It one of those things — you have to give it to them: that is a good team. They needed buckets, and they got buckets.

“The bottom line is we need to do a better job of shooting our free throws. But this game gets us ready for Wednesday, which will be a big test. Eureka got blown out by (South Medford), and we should have won that game.”

Del Norte got off to a hot start in the game with an 8-0 run out of the gate in the first 2:30 of play. The Warriors edged their lead up as high as nine points at 15-6 with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, but the Panthers suddenly caught fire with scoring on their last five possessions of the period, including a pair of three-pointers to pull within 19-16 heading into the second quarter.

After that the game remained tight, with neither team able to pull ahead by more than seven points for the rest of the contest.

Still, the Warriors held onto the lead for the entire first half and most of the second half. Del Norte did a much better job of protecting the ball against South Medford’s high pressure full court press after struggling a bit in that area in the last couple games.

Meanwhile, South Medford had no answer for Warrior senior Kaleya Sanchez. Sanchez went off of a season-high 35 points in the game, while matching up against Panthers star and future NCAA Division I basketball player Ula Chamberlain, who is already signed to play for Weber State next season.

“We worked it inside. We gave Sanchez the ball and she is unstoppable,” Clifton said. “When they doubled on her she was kicking it outside and we were hitting shots.”

Sophomore guard Jadence Clifton was the primary beneficiary of Sanchez’s kick-out pass, knocking down six three-pointers throughout the game on her way to 26 points. Bella Stone chipped in with 13 points for the Warriors.

South Medford came out strongly at the start of the second half with a 10-4 run that turned a one-point deficit into a five-point lead for the visitors, but Del Norte was able to rebound with six quick points in the final 1:37 of the quarter and went into the fourth quarter trailing 48-46.

Del Norte quickly jumped back on top in the fourth quarter as Sanchez started things off with a basket in the post, followed by a three-pointer by Clifton to put the Warriors ahead 51-48.

Both teams traded a flurry of baskets in the period, and neither team was able to pull away. The Warriors held the advantage for the final five minutes of play, however, and led by four points on three separate occasions in the final 3:30 minutes.

Clifton knocked down a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left to give Del Norte a 66-63 lead, and the Warriors looked poised to pull out the win after a South Medford three-point shot bounced off the rim.

Clifton was fouled once again with 5.9 seconds remaining, but this time missed both free throws to allow a last gasp effort. South Medford was able to secure the rebound and managed to get off a catch-and-shoot three-point shot from the half court circle than careened off the backboard and fell through the hoop as the final buzzer sounded to tie the game and force overtime.

“They were literally throwing everything us with banked in threes and a buzzer-beater half court heave,” Clifton said. “We were in position to win that game. We just have to capitalize. It comes down to being young. We are a very young team. I am extremely proud of these girls, though. I told them before the game, ‘Win or lose I just want you to go out there and have fun and compete.’ We did good.”

In the four-minute overtime period Clifton put the Warriors in front with a three-pointer out of the gates, and Del Norte held the lead for the first 1:30 of play. South Medford wrestled the lead away at the 2:27 mark and stayed in front for the rest of the contest.

After falling behind by as much as four in overtime, Del Norte had a chance to possibly force a second overtime period with 12.9 seconds remaining and trailing 77-74.

Sanchez connected on a long two-pointer with seven seconds left to pull within 77-76. Del Norte then fouled South Medford to save some time, and the Panthers converted on both of their free throws to go back ahead by three with 3.5 seconds left.

The Warriors ensuing inbound pass was deflected, allowing time to run out.

“It was a fun game. It sucks losing, but I am impressed with the way we played against this team. I think we played 34 minutes of great basketball. We just had two different one-minute stretches where we fell apart a little bit,” Clifton said. “I’m proud of the girls. They played well and they played tough — they competed. We are sitting here talking about a half court shot to beat us, but just being in the game against them is impressive. We gave the fans a good show, I think. I’m speechless, but I am very proud of the girls.”

With the loss, Del Norte falls to 14-2 overall this season. The Warriors will be back in action Wednesday in an important Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 contest as Eureka comes to Crescent City for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

Del Norte and Eureka are the last undefeated teams in the Big 5 this season at 3-0, giving Wednesday’s winner an inside track to an HDN league championship. Eureka’s last game came against the same South Medford that clipped Del Norte on Saturday. The Loggers fell 78-53 to the Panthers in Eureka on Friday in that game.

“I’m excited for this team. We are 14-2 now, and we have a big game on Wednesday,” Clifton said. “We are going to run, we are going to slow it down, and we are going to throw different defenses at them. I think this game got us ready for that. We just have to execute.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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