The Del Norte varsity boys’ basketball team came into Thursday’s Big Five Conference finale against the McKinleyville Panthers at Thunen Gymnasium having already clinched its first outright conference championship since 2010, but still having some unfinished business to take care of.
On what was Senior Night for Damian Dowd, Alexander Dodson, Kobe Mitchell, Anthony Slayton, Omar Banuelos and Eli Larson, the Warriors began uncharacteristically slowly as the pageantry of the pregame acknowledgments carried over onto the court in the opening minutes.
That all changed when Warrior head coach Marc Slayton called a full timeout just 90 seconds into the ballgame with his team leading 3-2.
The message was simple.
“Let’s finish.”
The early wake up call brought the focus back to the task at hand on the court, and the Warriors never looked back en route to a 61-33 victory that capped off an unbeaten conference season.
The Panthers stayed around for the first quarter and change, before the Warriors broke open what had been a slim 15-12 lead early in the second period. Once the floodgates opened on the offensive end of the floor, the momentum carried over onto the defensive end, as the Warriors found themselves on cruise control from the 6:00 mark of the second period to the early stages of the fourth quarter.
After outscoring the Panthers 20-5 in the second quarter and going into the locker room with a 33-14 lead, the home team continued the barrage into the third quarter, hitting five of their first seven shots of the period and holding the Panthers without a field goal for a five minute stretch. The result was a 9-0 Warrior run to open the third period that saw the lead balloon to 42-14, and eventually reached a 30-point spread at 48-18. In addition to hitting virtually everything shot at the basket offensively, the Warrior defense forced six turnovers in that five minute period as the Panthers had zero answers.
Dodson scored a team-high 13 points, all in the second half and including three 3-point goals to lead what was a balanced. Banuelos, who hit what turned out to be the game-winning 3-point shot from the corner in the final seconds of Tuesday’s conference-clinching game at Arcata, scored 11 points against the Panthers Thursday, including a 3-point field goal. Slayton scored nine points, while Mitchell and Larson each had a 3-point field goal to account for their offensive production. Although Dowd may not have found the scoring column, the senior point guard steadied the Warrior offense all evening long, while playing stifling defense on the perimeter.
Although the Warriors are yet to have an opponent for the upcoming Dick Niclai postseason tournament, they do know the game will be played Wednesday evening at Thunen Gymnasium with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.

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