F o r the first time in history, Del Norte has secured the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 girls basketball league championship.

The Warriors wrapped up sole possession of its first-ever league championship Tuesday in emphatic fashion with a 74-43 romp over McKinleyville on Senior Night in Crescent City.

“It means a lot because we have never won one before,” said Del Norte senior Kaleya Sanchez, who was recently named an All American. “In all my four years of playing I have always wanted one, so it is cool that I get one in my senior year, and on my senior night.”

Del Norte jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead after its first three possessions. The run ended with Sanchez knocking down a pair of free throws, followed by a three-pointer by Shelby Horner on the Warriors next possession to get both of Del Norte’s senior players on the scoreboard less than two minutes into their last regular season home game in Thunen Gymnasium.

Clifton said the Warriors planned to run a play to get Horner, who was making her first start for the basketball team, an open look from three early in the game.

“It took a couple plays, but when she hit it and (McKinleyville) called time out this place went crazy and I knew that these girls were pumped,” Clifton said.

McKinleyville got hot from deep following the timeout, however, with three 3-pointers in the span of 2:30 to grab a 9-8 lead. The Panthers briefly grabbed a two-point lead on a runner by Maritiza Solano with 31 seconds left, but Sanchez tied the game back up at 11-11 with an offensive rebound and putback just before the end of the quarter.

That putback was the first of a 10-0 run, as Del Norte scored the first eight points in the second quarter and never looked back — outscoring McKinleyville 26-9 in the second quarter and pulling away throughout the second half. The crowd in Thunen Gym was loud throughout the night but reached a crescendo near the end of the first half when sophomore guard Jadence Clifton pulled a quick crossover dribble near midcourt that sent the Panther defender falling to her back. Clifton then drove to the basket for an easy layup with 42 seconds remaining to give the Warriors a 17-point lead at halftime.

Clifton said he thought that play all but clinched the win for Del Norte.

“That place went crazy, and McKinleyville was just done,” Clifton said.

The Warriors were on fire for most of the night offensively and they spread the ball around. Del Norte finished with eight three-pointers in the game while five different players hit at least one shot from behind the three-point arc.

When the Warriors played the Panthers in McKinleyville Del Norte only managed to put up 48 points, tied for its lowest scoring output in Big 5 play, while scratching out a six-point road win. On Tuesday Del Norte was a completely different team.

“We had mismatches all over the place,” Clifton said. “Last time we were trying to pound it inside to Kaleya. This time we spread it out and we used the mismatches and it worked. I’m very proud of them, we just opened it up.”

Sanchez ended up picking up her fourth foul of the game just 50 seconds into the second half, as the Warriors held a 15-point advantage and Del Norte’s star senior had to spend the rest of the third quarter on the bench.

The Warriors continued to roll without their leading scorer, however. Del Norte promptly went on a 16-6 run, turning a comfortable lead into a blowout with a 53-28 advantage midway through the third quarter.

By the time Sanchez came back into the game in the fourth quarter Del Norte’s lead had swelled to 59-33.

“We had some foul trouble issues, but it didn’t matter,” Clifton said. “The girls were coming in, hitting threes and taking charges.”

Sanchez and Clifton led Del Norte offensively with 20 points apiece. Horner, a senior in her first year of playing basketball, doesn’t usually play a lot of minutes but found herself in the starting line up on Senior Night and ended up with a team-high three 3-pointers to finish with 9 points.

“To have Shelby Horner come in on Senior Night, get the start, and play well was great,” Clifton said. “It just goes to show that if you work hard, play defense and do what you are supposed to do you are going to be able to play.”

Bella Stone also scored nine points as eight of the Warriors nine players scored at least two points.

“Usually we don’t run a lot of plays, usually it is a lot of fast breaks, but today we slowed it down and actually ran some plays, which helped a lot,” Sanchez said. “Everyone just played really well today. When I hurt my ankle and had to go out everyone else stepped up. I didn’t have to worry.

“I think everyone contributed equally in this game — nobody played better than anybody else. I am really happy for that because we are all good, and we all showed it today.”

With the win, Del Norte improves to 18-2 overall this season and sits at 7-0 in the HDN Big 5 standings. The Warriors can wrap up an undefeated league season on Thursday with a road trip to Eureka, scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 p.m.

“Thursday’s game is just about pride. Eureka will finish No. 2 no matter what, and we will finish No. 1 no matter what, so it is just about pride,” Clifton said. “It’s just Del Norte vs Eureka is what it comes down to. I personally would like to finish undefeated in league play. So we are going to go down there on Thursday, and these girls are pumped. We said we wanted to go 8-0 in league and that is what we are going to do.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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