In a battle between the top two teams in the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5, the Del Norte boys basketball team gave first place Fortuna all that it could handle. The Warriors had the Huskies on the ropes with a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Fortuna came storming back to tie and Del Norte couldn’t capitalize on a last chance effort to win the game in regulation with a missed shot at the buzzer that the Warriors felt could have been called a foul.
Del Norte’s leading scorer Omar Banuelos fouled out on the first play of overtime, and the Warriors couldn’t find enough offense to keep pace with Fortuna in the extra period as the Huskies pulled away for a 66-57 victory.
“I thought we played our butts off. The kids deserved a better outcome — I really believe that,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “We played as hard as we could play, we did things pretty well, we limited their second chance looks, we did everything that we wanted to do to give ourselves a chance to win. Unfortunately we just didn’t finish.”
Del Norte started the fourth quarter with a 38-34 advantage and quickly went ahead by six points on a drive by Nolan O’Kelly with 7:30 left in the game. But Fortuna put together a quick 6-0 run to tie the game up at 42-42 three minutes into the fourth quarter.
That was the first of four ties in the fourth quarter to go along with a pair of lead changes in the final five minutes of regulation.
Del Norte took a timeout with the game tied at 54-54 with 13.1 seconds remaining, but the Warriors’ potential game-winning shot careened off the glass as the buzzer sounded on a shot attempt that may have drawn a little bit of contact from the defender.
In overtime Fortuna won the tip and drew a fifth foul on Banuelos to force the Warriors’ leading scorer to leave the game after 21 points in the first four quarters.
“They called an early foul on Omar and that hurts us,” Lopez said. “He is obviously important to what we do offensively, and he was having a big night. They just played better in overtime than we did.”
After that, the Warriors struggled to score. Judah Robinson hit a bucket in the post to cut the Huskies’ lead back to a basket at 56-58 with just less than three minutes remaining, but Fortuna outscored Del Norte 8-1 down the stretch to pull out the win.
“We couldn’t play any harder,” Lopez said. “We played our butts off, and we gave ourselves a chance to win. We did everything that we could to win. We just didn’t come out on top.”
Del Norte got into significant foul trouble early in the game with Robinson and Nolan O’Kelly both picking up two fouls early in the first quarter. That caused the Warriors to go deep into their bench early and often throughout the game.
Del Norte’s foul troubled got even deeper in the second quarter as Banuelos, Damien Dowd and Anthony Slayton each picked up their second foul as well. That left four of the Warriors’ five starters and one of its top reserves saddled with two fouls apiece by halftime.
“I’m not saying that we didn’t foul, but 14 fouls to 3 (for Fortuna) is a pretty big discrepancy,” Lopez said. “We have to quit fouling — we have to move our feet and do those things because that hurt us, obviously. We had a bunch of guys with two fouls at halftime, and that obviously changes the way that you play.”
Still, the Warriors were able to battle through those foul issues and held a 22-21 lead at halftime.
“Give those guys credit for coming in,” Lopez said. “They came in and did a good job and really kept us afloat.”
Before the fouls started to mount, Del Norte got off to a hot start in Fortuna with a 7-2 run out of the gates, capped by a three-pointer by O’Kelly midway through the first quarter. But the Huskies’ offense quickly got back on track and pulled to within 13-11 by the end of the quarter after O’Kelly and Robinson went to the bench with two fouls.
The Warriors’ lead expanded back to five points at 17-12 after short jumpers by Alex Dodson and Banuelos before Fortuna ripped off a quick 7-0 run to retake the lead at 19-17 late in the second quarter.
The second half started out at a frantic pace as Fortuna grabbed a lead with a drive to the basket in the first possession, followed by a three-pointer by Ethan Price to put the Warriors back up by two. The Huskies then answered with a long three-pointer to go back ahead at 26-25. Omar Banuelos answered that bucket with a shot in the paint to push the Warriors back in front just 90 seconds into the third quarter.
The Warriors had a balanced offensive attack with seven different players scoring, led by Banuelos’ 21. Robinson added nine points for Del Norte, while O’Kelly tallied seven and Dowd chipped in with six.
With the loss Del Norte falls to 3-2 in the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 and 12-5 overall this season. Del Norte remains in second place in the Big 5, however, with a two-game lead over both Arcata and Eureka, who are tied for third place at 2-4 in league play.
Del Norte will be back in action on Friday with a home game against the Tigers, tipping off at 7:30 p.m.
Reach Michael Zogg at email@example.com .