After a back and fourth first three quarters, the McKinleyville boys basketball team managed to build up a bit of a lead early in the fourth quarter, and Del Norte couldn’t come back. The Warriors ended up dropping their third straight game with a 59-53 loss on the road in McKinleyville on Wednesday.

“The team that was here two weeks ago is not here right now, and I don’t know why,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “It might be my fault. We just aren’t playing with a sense of urgency. We are giving up too many points on the defensive end, and we are really struggling shooting the ball. Of course nobody is trying to miss shots, but we were 9-of-33 from the floor in the first half. You aren’t going to win many games when you shoot like that, and we just aren’t defending as hard as we were.”

Del Norte held a slim 43-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the Panthers got hot with a three pointer on the first possession of the quarter to kick off an 8-2 run to retake the lead.

The Warriors got buckets from Judah Robinson and Omar Banuelos to pull back within a point at 50-49, but the Panthers had an aswer with a quick 7-0 over the next two minutes to grab a 57-49 lead with less than 1:30 to play.

Del Norte made a couple nice plays late in the game with a basket in the post by Robinson, followed by a pass out of bounds by McKinleyville and a layup by Ethan Price to cut the lead in half at 57-53 with about 40 seconds remaining.

That was all the closer that the Warriors would be able to get, however.

“Give them credit, they shot the crap out of it,” Lopez said. “They made a couple shots where we had guys all over them. They just hit big shots, and we didn’t.”

Neither team was able to gain much of an advantage in the early going as both teams battled back and fourth with eight lead changes and two ties throughout a frantic first quarter.

Late in the first quarter Del Norte pulled within one point of the Panthers on a three pointer by Omar Banuelos. Ethan Price followed that up with a steal and a dunk in transition to put the Warriors ahead 18-17 with just a few seconds left, but McKinleyville nailed a three pointer at the buzzer to grab a 20-18 lead.

The Panthers stayed hot early in the second quarter, scoring six straight points at the start of the period to complete the 9-0.

Banuelos managed to end the run with a three pointer to pull the Warriors back within a score of 26-21.

The Panthers pushed their lead out to seven points with two minutes left before halftime, but Banuelos knocked down a pair of late free throws to trim McKinleyville’s lead down to 32-27 at halftime.

The Warriors put together a strong third quarter to climb back into the game. With 4:50 left in the period Robinson cur hard to the basket for an easy layup to start a 12-3 run for Del Norte. Nolan O’Kelly finally tied the game back up at 40-40 with a basket in transition and Banuelos nailed a three pointer on the Warriors next possession to put Del Norte back ahead for the first time since the first quarter at 43-40.

“We were able to get stops (in the third quarter,)” Lopez said. “We got some stops and made some buckets. We just didn’t play well in the first quarter or the fourth quarter. I think that is what beat us.”

Banuelos finished with a game-high 21 points for Del Norte while also grabbing seven rebounds. Ethan Price scored 14 points with nine rebounds for the Warriors while Robinson chipped in 12 points.

With the loss, Del Norte falls to 12-7 overall this season and the team’s currently three game losing streak drops them to 3-4 in the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5. With the win, McKinleyville pulls into a tie with Del Norte for second place in the Big 5 standings.

“We have just kind of lost our mojo, but we had better hurry up and find it,” Lopez said.

Del Norte will be back in action with its regular season finale on Friday. The Warriors game against Eureka, scheduled to tip off at about 7:30 p.m. will be senior night but it will also have major implications for Del Norte’s postseason hopes.

“It is just has to do with us showing up and committing to each other that we are going to go out and give everything we have,” Lopez said. “We have to try to do things the right way and we have to make some shots, that isn’t a secret. We scored enough points tonight though, we just didn’t defend very well.”

With a win over Eureka the Warriors could finish no worse than in a two-way tie for second place, but would have sole possession of second place in the Big 5 if No. 1 Fortuna can beat McKinleyville in Fortuna on Friday.

If both Del Norte and McKinleyville end up losing on Friday that would leave the Huskies as the undefeated Big 5 champions with the rest of the league tied for second place at 3-5 in league games.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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