The Del Norte varsity boys’ basketball team overcame any number of challenges and faced as much adversity as the squad had faced in quite some time as they traveled to Arcata High School to take on the Tigers in Big Five Conference action at Jerry Paul Gymnasium Tuesday evening.
Trailing by 13 points after one quarter and by as many as 16 in the first half, along with having both Anthony Slayton and Omar Banuelos in foul trouble throughout the evening, the Warriors battled literally all of the 32 minutes of regulation time, and pulling out a 50-48 victory to remain undefeated in conference play and clinch its first outright Big Five Conference championship since 2010.
Down 48-47 with mere seconds showing on the clock in a game that the Tigers had seized control of early and had maintained a lead on the scoreboard virtually throughout, Banuelos, with outstretched defenders draped all over him, drained a high-arcing 3-point shot from the corner to give the Warriors a 50-48 lead and sending the Warrior faithful and sideline into a frenzy as the final buzzer sounded.
“Omar is one of the premiere players in our league,” Warrior coach Marc Slayton said. “He said he had never hit a game-winning shot before. He picked a good night to hit his first one.”
In a contest fitting of the top two teams in the Big Five, the home team came out with a definite goal in mind, that being to hand the Warriors their first conference loss, and first loss period since early December, while attempting to vault themselves into a tie with the Warriors atop the conference standings in the process.
At the outside and for large stretches of the contest, it appeared as though the Tigers were going to do exactly that, jumping on the Warriors quickly in the opening quarter offensively, while using a pressure defense in an attempt to keep the visiting team from getting anything of its own going offensively.
However, each and every time it looked like the Tigers were in command, the Warriors had a response, using a methodical possession-by-possession philosophy on both ends of the floor to begin slowly inching their way back into contention.
After the Warriors cut what had been a double-digit deficit to 23-21 at halftime, the Tigers built the advantage back to eight at the end of three quarters, setting the stage for what was was a stomach-churning, heart palpitating final eight minutes, literally.
“Arcata missed some shots that they had been making earlier in the game, and we were able to control the boards in the fourth quarter,” Slayton said. “Sometimes it takes a little luck, and we had definitely had some luck tonight.”
Banuelos, who played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, led three Warriors in double-figures with 13 points, including two fourth quarter 3-point goals. Judson Pincombe scored all 11 of his points in the second half, while Anthony Slayton added 10 points despite being saddled by foul trouble himself.
Although the Warriors still have one game remaining on their regular season schedule, that being Thursday when they play host to the McKinleyville Panthers on what will be Senior Night at Thunen Gymnasium, the euphoria of Tuesday’s victory and all that comes with it is something that coaching staff and players alike are going to allow themselves to enjoy.
“I’m really proud of this group of kids,” Slayton said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do as a coaching staff starting in the summer to get us to where we are now as a team. For this team and for this group of seniors to win a Big Five title outright is special.”