Del Norte made quick work of Middletown on Wednesday, in the opening round of the North Coast Section Division IV boys basketball tournament. The No. 7 Warriors rode some hot shooting and stellar defense to big lead, coming away from Thunen Gym with a 72-42 victory over the 10-seed to move on to Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Del Norte played well on both sides of the floor and ended up with 12 steals in the game, including nine in the first half, to go along with 12 three-pointers made throughout the contest.

“I thought we played really well, other than missing a few chip shots early,” said Del Norte head coach Blaine Lopez. “We missed some easy ones, but other than that we executed very very well. We were able to get any shot we wanted, and no one was afraid to make the extra pass. It is kind of what we have been doing — we have been playing pretty unselfish basketball recently, and that is fun. That is who we have to be. I thought our defensive execution was really good too. For the most part we took away what they were trying to do.”

The Warriors came barrelling out of the gates as Omar Banuelos found a wide open Anthony Slayton in the corner and the Warrior junior knocked down the three pointer just 13 seconds into the game. Del Norte then put on the full court pressure and Nolan O’Kelly immediately stole the ball from a Middletown guard and converted it into an easy layup to put the Warriors in front 5-0 with 7:32 left in the first quarter.

The Warriors made ample use of a full court press, which was a rarity for the team throughout the regular season.

The move paid off, however, as Del Norte forced Middletown into five turnovers in the first eight minutes, including four steals by the Warriors as they built up an 18-10 lead by the end of the first quarter.

“I thought our press got us going,” Lopez said. “It raised our energy level, and it caught them a little bit off guard maybe because we haven’t pressed a ton this year. I thought we did a good job in the press. We didn’t give up any easy ones, we got ourselves a couple easy ones, and that kind of got us going.”

Del Norte stayed hot to start the second quarter with an 16-0 run in the opening 4:43 of the period. Banuelos started the run with a three pointer from the corner. After a travel by Middletown, Damien Dowd nailed another three pointer from the opposite corner. A steal by O’Kelly, followed by a short jumper by Kaleb Price put the Warriors in charge with a 26-10 lead with 6:35 left in the first half. Ethan Price scored six of the next eight points for Del Norte as the Warriors lead ballooned to 34-10 before Middletown finally scored its first points of the period with 3:17 left before halftime.

Del Norte lead by as many as 23 points in the first half, and led 40-19 at halftime.

In the third quarter Banuelos caught fire offensively. The Warrior junior knocked down four three pointers in the third quarter and scored 15 of Del Norte’s first 18 points of the period.

Ethan Price stretched the Warriors lead out to 29 points at the end of the third quarter when he was fouled on a putback at the buzzer following an offensive rebound. Price hit the free throw to complete the traditional three-point play and put Del Norte ahead 61-32 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Warriors were able to empty their bench in the final quarter, allowing all available players to get significant minutes in the opening round playoff victory.

“It is great to get the win, it has been a while since we have been at home in a playoff game,” Lopez said. “It was nice to get our first win. Thanks to all the people who came out to support us, especially for the early game because I know that it is hard with people working. The kids really appreciate it.”

Del Norte’s high pressure defense pestered Middletown into committing turnovers throughout the game. The Warriors finished the game with 12 steals, including nine in the first half alone. O’Kelly, Kobe Mitchell, Ethan Price and Kaleb Price led the way defensively with two steals apiece for the Warriors.

Offensively, the Warriors were led by Banuelos with 28 points. Ethan Price was the only other player in double figures for Del Norte with 14 points, but nine different players scored at least a basket in the contest. Kaleb Price scored 8 points, Judson Pincombe scored six on a pair of 3-pointers, and Dowd chipped in five points.

Del Norte combined for 12 three pointers throughout the game as the Warriors tallied their highest point total so far this season.

“I thought we got great looks, which helps, but you still have to make them,” Lopez said. “The nice thing was that we got contributions from a few guys. We talk about it all the time, but when the ball is going in the hole it makes you look a lot better, and it makes things easier.”

With the win, Del Norte advances to the NCS quarterfinals, where they will take on No. 2 Fortuna. The Huskies picked up a 106-73 victory over No. 15 Fort Bragg in the first round. It will be the fourth meeting of the season between Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 foes, but the Huskies have won all three games against the Warriors so far this season.

“It is nothing magical and it is nothing secret — we have to go down and play well,” Lopez said. “We have to match their energy from the start and then just see what happens. When we played them down there we played pretty well and gave ourselves a chance to win. Last week they kind of put it on us. They came out with more energy than us and made us pay for coming out flat. They shot the crap out of the ball too — if they shoot like that they will be tough to beat. Hopefully we can just go down there, be competitive, and give ourselves a chance to win in the end.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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