Turnovers and missed shots plagued both teams in the early going in Thunen Gym on Tuesday. The Del Norte girls basketball team managed to get back on track, but Fortuna struggled to score all night long as the Warriors pulled out a 53-25 victory over the Huskies to start the second half of Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 play with a win.

“We had almost a whole week off,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton. “We had a lot of practices in there. They got to go to a dance, and we had four girls doing the dance production, so they were busy all week going back and forth.

“It was super slow in the first half, and I kind of knew that it was coming. It’s just about keeping the girls focused, and that is going to be the hardest thing over the next three games. We just need to take it one game at a time and keep playing our game. We can’t screw around in the first half and decide to show up in the third quarter because sometime those big third quarters might not be there. Then you never know what might happen in the fourth quarter.”

Both Del Norte and Fortuna turned the ball over three times apiece in the opening 2:30 as the game stayed tied at 0-0.

Del Norte’s Kaleya Sanchez eventually broke the scoreless tie with 5:18 left in the first quarter with a basket in the post, but the offensive struggles continued throughout the first quarter for both teams, with the Warriors clinging to a slim 7-6 lead at the end of the opening period.

In the second quarter Del Norte hit the offensive glass as Sanchez grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds and putbacks to start the quarter and push the Warriors’ lead up to six points, which expanded into a 10-point lead with the score 21-11 at halftime.

Despite the double-digit lead, Clifton thought the Warriors lacked their typical execution throughout the entire first 16 minutes of play.

“Coming out of the locker room in that third quarter I told them, ‘It is time to wake up. Now it’s time to play and show them why we are the frontrunner in the Big 5,’” Clifton said. “And they did. They came out hard in the third quarter.”

The Warriors responded with a big 19-point third quarter to stretch their lead out to 21 points. Clifton said the biggest difference for Del Norte was its focus on running the offense.

“They started actually running the offense instead of just playing pickup basketball,” Clifton said. “When we ran the offense it was creating open shots because you can’t guard everybody in a zone. We hit three threes in that third quarter and a long two as well.”

Fortuna’s star center Charlotte Carroll ended up picking up her fifth foul and was forced to leave the game with 7:02 left in the fourth quarter. After that Del Norte pushed its lead up to 28 points on two separate occasions — including the final margin.

Carrol finished the game with just four points for the Huskies.

“Fortuna came out and played well in the first half. In the second half they slowed down a little bit,” Clifton said. “Charlotte Carroll is a good player, but our game plan was to not let her get the ball. When she fouled out it really opened it up on the inside for everybody.”

Sanchez led the Warriors with a game-high 18 points while Jadence Clifton chipped in with 16 for the Warriors. Bella Stone scored 8 points while senior Shelby Horner picked up four points, all in the final 90 seconds of the game.

Maykala Jackson and Selene Ledezma both chipped in two points apiece to round out the scoring for Del Norte.

With the win, the Warriors improve to 16-2 overall this year, and they hold on to first place in the Big 5 standings at 5-0. Del Norte will be back in action on Thursday with a road trip to take on Arcata. The Warriors beat the Tigers 64-51 when the two teams met in Crescent City on Jan. 9.

After winning multiple league championships in a row, the Arcata girls have struggled this season, especially in Big 5 play as they will enter Thursday’s contest at 0-6 in the HDN.

Clifton said he expects the Tigers to provide a tough test for the Warriors, however, as Del Norte tries to close in on the first league championship in girls basketball in school history.

“I think we will be fine going to Arcata, but it is going to be a tough game,” Clifton said. “Even though they don’t have a league win, they play tough. They are going to come out playing hard Thursday and it is going to be a good game. It is a long road to winning the Big 5 — there is a reason why we have never done it before. We just have to have a good practice (on Wednesday) and keep our heads up. It is nice to be 5-0 in league, but there is still a long ways to go.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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