The Del Norte boys basketball team had a frantic finish to the week in the Dick Niclai Tournament. The Warriors went on the road on Thursday for a 62-51 victory over Humboldt-Del Norte Little 4 Champion Hoopa. Del Norte couldn’t overcome HDN Big 5 champion Fortuna in the Niclai championship game on Friday, however, falling 78-66 in Humboldt State University’s Lumberjack Arena in Arcata to finish as the runner up.
Fortuna 78, Del Norte 66
The Del Norte boys basketball team just couldn’t keep pace with a red hot Fortuna team on Friday, and the Huskies pulled out a 78-66 victory.
“They just beat us,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “We didn’t come out with very much energy, and they did. We came out really flat and they are too good to do that and they made us pay for it.”
Both teams started out well offensively, but Del Norte just couldn’t keep pace with a red hot Fortuna team in the first quarter.
The Huskies hit the offensive glass hard in the early going and were rewarded with seven second-chance points in the first four minutes. Fortuna was also red hot from behind the three-point arc. The Huskies missed their first three 3-pointers, but Fortuna hit six of its next seven three point shots to put up 28 points in the first eight minutes.
“We just didn’t guard them,” Lopez said. “We just didn’t have the energy tonight and they did. We looked like we were running in quick sand, and they looked like they were running on a treadmill.”
Del Norte was effective in the paint, with six of its seven first quarter baskets coming from inside the paint, but the Warriors still trailed 28-16 heading into the second quarter.
Del Norte went back into the paint early in the second quarter as it battled back to within six points at 31-25, following three baskets in the paint by Ethan Price, Judah Robinson, and Nolan O’Kelly in addition to a three pointer by Robinson.
Fortuna quickly answered, however, immediately going on a 14-6 run, capped off by a 3-pointer by Fortuna’s Bradly Willis as he was falling out of bounds at the halftime buzzer. That gave the Huskies a 45-31 lead heading into the lockerroom.
The Huskies opened up a 19 point lead with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter and threatened to blow Del Norte out, but the Warriors buckled down and finished the game strong.
A basket by O’Kelly trimmed the lead down to 64-47 and all of the sudden Del Norte got hot from behind the three point line. Ethan Price, Kaleb Price, O’Kelly and Omar Banuelos all hit a three pointer for the Warriors in the final 5:10 of the game while the Warriors put up 14 points in that span.
Del Norte managed to cut the lead back within single digits with about three and a half minutes remaining, battling all the way back to within eight points.
Fortuna answered the run with a banked in three pointer with however, and the Huskies held on from there.
“We did cut it down, and their guy throws it off the backboard and makes it,” Lopez said. “I just thought that we played with a little more energy in the fourth quarter, and I am proud of the guys for that. They could have quit and thrown in the towel, down 14 at halftime and down 14 again at the end of the third. We didn’t quit though.”
Fortuna finished the game with 14 3-pointers made in the contest.
“They are really good,” Lopez said of the Huskies. “There is a reason they are 26-1 now.”
Del Norte had another balanced scoring night offensively with seven Warriors scoring at least three points. Banuelos led the way with 20, followed by Ethan Price and O’Kelly with 13 points apiece. Robinson finished with nine points for Del Norte.
Del Norte 62, Hoopa 51
Del Norte was right on point in the early going of the Niclai semifinal game against Hoopa, building a big lead throughout the first half. Hoopa managed to chip away at the Warriors’ lead in the third quarter and put together a big push in the fourth quarter but Del Norte was able to hold of the home team and pull out a 62-51 victory to advance to Friday’s championship game.
“We played really really well in the first half, and got a little bit out of control in the second half,” Lopez said. “It was definitely a tale of two halves. We didn’t finish as well as I wanted to obviously, but on the road in Hoopa — a tough place to play — we will take the win every time. But we definitely didn’t play as well in the second half as we did in the first half.”
Del Norte’s defense was particularly impressive early in the game and frustrated the high-flying Hoopa offense, which averaged over 72 points per game. The Warriors were all tied up at 9-9 with 2:56 left in the opening quarter when Del Norte’s senior trio took over offensively.
Nolan O’Kelly kicked off a 9-2 run to end the quarter with a three pointer, followed by a steal by Judah Robinson leading to a fast break layup for Ethan Price. After another Hoopa turnover Price once again got an easy bucket inside on a nice pass from Omar Banuelos. Price missed a shot near the end of the first quarter, but Robinson was able to tip it back in just before the buzzer to give Del Norte a 18-11 lead.
The Warriors’ lead quickly expanded in the second quarter as Banuelos and Damien Dowd knocked down three pointers on back to back possessions to push the Warriors ahead by 13 points.
Hoopa answered with a 5-0 run to cut Del Norte’s lead back to 24-16, but Del Norte once again put together a big run to finish the half. Del Norte outscored Hoopa 15-2 run in which featured at least one basket by five different Del Norte players.
“I thought we moved the ball pretty well,” Lopez said. “We were definitely unselfish again tonight, passing up good shots for great shots. That is kind of who we have to be, and we had people knock down those shots, especially in the first half.”
Del Norte’s run late in the first half left the Warriors with a big 39-18 advantage at halftime. Although Hoopa likes to play fast, Del Norte actually managed to outscore the home team in transition in the first half. Del Norte also held a decided advantage on the boards against Hoopa, outscoring it 8-2 in second chance points.
“We defended really really well, and we rebounded exceptionally well,” Lopez said. “Those two things were the biggest difference I thought. That gave us a couple easy opportunities, which was nice, and we made them.”
In the second half Del Norte managed to push its advantage as high as 25 points on a basket in the paint by Kobe Mitchell with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
Then Hoopa started to make its move.
The home Warriors ripped off an 11-4 run to close out the third quarter, trimming Del Norte’s lead down to 51-33 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hoopa picked up its full court pressure defense and forced four Del Norte turnovers in the first 3:30 of the fourth quarter to pull back within 10 points at 54-44 on a three pointer.
“We got a little bit hurried,” Lopez said. “They pressured us and we got a little bit helter skelter, and we missed a bunch of easy shots. We probably missed seven or eight easy layups, and give them credit, they converted on them.”
Del Norte was able to respond with back-to-back buckets by Banuelos and O’Kelly to push its lead back out to 14 points with less than four minutes remaining.
Hoopa cut Del Norte’s lead back to 10 points once again on a layup with 1:38 remaining, but the Warriors once again had an answer as O’Kelly and Robinson knocked down a pair of free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
After the Niclai Tournament the Warriors sit at 16-8 overall this season and are in strong position to receive an at large bid into the North Coast Section Division IV Tournament. Prior to Friday’s championship game against Fortuna, which is the top-ranked team in the section according to maxpreps.com’s playoff prediction model, the Warriors were ranked eighth in Division IV.
The North Coast Section will officially release the brackets for off of its divisions on Sunday, with the playoffs starting on Wednesday.
“We hope to get a home game,” Lopez said. “We think we are going to be No. 7 — that is where we think we are going to fall and that should give us a home game I hope.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .