The No. 2 Del Norte girls basketball team came away from the schools first ever North Coast Section Division IV semifinal game Wednesday with a hard-fought 47-42 victory over No. 6 Lick-Wilmerding to punch its ticked to Friday’s championship game.
“I’m super excited because this has never happened,” said Del Norte senior Kaleya Sanchez. “It feels really good. I am so proud of my team. We have been making history already and we just keep progressing and making more history. That is exciting.”
The Warriors struggled at the free throw line, going 7-for-14 through the first 31:30 of the game, but sophomore Bella Stone stepped up and hit a pair of free throws on a one-and-one with 29.6 seconds left to hold off a late charge by the Tigers, pushing Del Norte’s lead back up to two possessions at 46-42.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Stone said. “I was really nervous, but they went in.”
Lick-Wilmerding missed a shot on their next possession, and senior Kaleya Sanchez completed her double-double by grabbing the defensive rebound and the Warriors held on in the closing seconds.
“We worked pretty well as a team tonight. We have been doing better at that, and today it really showed,” Sanchez said. “If we were even open for a split second we would take the shot. We weren’t scared, we were aggressive. That wins games.”
It has been over a month since Del Norte has found itself in a competitive game late in the fourth quarter. Since the Warriors overtime loss to South Medford on Jan. 12, Del Norte has ripped off nine straight wins by 10 points or more, including lopsided win in the first two rounds of the NCS playoffs.
The Warriors showed that they still know how to pull out a win in a competitive game, however.
“We showed what we have been working on,” Stone said. “We haven’t had a team that has really pushed us like that one — that is a good team — they have some good players and they are young. We just did what coach (Justin) Clifton told us to do and it worked.”
Although Del Norte came out with a win, both teams started off a little bit sloppily in a fast-paced back and forth game. The Warriors committed five turnovers in the first quarter as Lick-Wilmerding pulled ahead 12-7 through the first eight minutes of play.
Midway through the second quarter, Kirsten Brous had a three point attempted swatted hard out of bounds, but the sweet shooting sophomore wasn’t deterred. Brous got open in the opposite corner on the ensuing inbounds pass and nailed a 3-pointer to give the Warriors their first lead of the game at 19-18.
Brous immediately stole the ball from the Tigers at midcourt, and passed it up to Sanchez who made a tough layup in transition to put the Warriors up by three points. Jadence Clifton knocked down a three pointer about a minute later to complete a game-changing 11-0 run that took the Warriors from a five-point deficit to a six point lead.
Although Del Norte was never able to pull away from Lick-Wilmerding, the Warriors only trailed for 15 seconds, near the end of the third quarter, for the rest of the game.
“In the first half we were basically just changing possessions,” Justin Clifton said. “We weren’t isolating how we were supposed to isolate, and we weren’t countering what they were doing at all. But we made the adjustment and their big girl scored zero points on us in the second half and they didn’t know what to do. We guarded their perimeter very well. They only hit one three on us in the second half and they are used to hitting seven or eight in a game. We controlled the third quarter and the fourth quarter pretty well, we played decent defense. We are going to have to pick up our defense up for the next round, but the bottom line is we are going to the championship.”
Stone said it is exciting to play in front of a packed home crowd.
“We knew our fans were going to support us and Thunen was packed out here,” Stone said. “We thank our fans. It was all Del Norte.”
Del Norte had four players score against Lick-Wilmerding. Sanchez led the way with 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds followed by Stone in 13 points. Jadence Clifton scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Brous added six points with a pair of three-pointers.
“Kirsten Brous hit some big outside shots, Jadence was close to a double-double, and Bella and Kaleya did have double-doubles,” Clifton said.
With the win Del Norte improves to 24-2 overall this season as they move on to Saturday’s NCS Championship game.
“I’m very proud of these girls,” Justin Clifton said. “It is super special for me because I have been in two section championships, and now I am coaching and my daughter is in the section championship game. It is really cool, and we are in it, so we might as well win it. That is what I told the girls.”
The No. 2 Warriors will face top-seeded St. Patrick-St. Vincent, who beat No. 5 Piedmont 64-59 in overtime in the other semifinal on Friday. The NCS Division IV championship game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. at Benicia High School.
“It means a lot to us,” Stone said of the opportunity to play for a section title. “It is all for the community, that is what we do it for. The gym floor is still full, there are still people here waiting. We do it for the town — we do it for Del Norte.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .