After running the table in claiming the program’s first outright Big Five Conference title since 2010, the Del Norte varsity boys’ basketball team added another accolade to an already impressive 2019-20 resume, coasting to a 46-35 victory over the Arcata Tigers in the championship game of the Dick Niclai Tournament Friday evening at Lumberjack Arena on the campus of Humboldt State University.
“All of the credit goes to the players,” first year varsity head coach Marc Slayton said after the game. “We played smart basketball, and were fabulous at the defensive end.”
Although the Warriors had won the previous two meetings against the Tigers during the conference season, as the adage in team sports goes, it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in one season.
With that in mind, and knowing it had taken an Omar Banuelos 3-point field goal in the final seconds followed by a near half-court shot that narrowly missed giving the Tigers a buzzer-beating victory in the previous matchup between the two schools, the Warriors wasted little time in setting the tone for Friday’s contest.
“We probably played our best first quarter of the season tonight,” Slayton said after watching his team take an 18-9 lead at the end of the eight minute period.
Things got a little interesting in the second stanza though, as the Warriors suddenly couldn’t find the bottom of the net offensively and had their lead virtually cut in half by intermission, with Del Norte holding on to a 21-6 lead advantage at the break.
Realizing things had gotten perhaps a little too close for comfort, the Warriors wasted zero time in rebuilding a cushion, ratcheting up an intensity level at the defensive end that had only allowed the Tigers nine and seven points respectively in the first half as it was. In addition to holding the Tigers offense in check, the Warrior offense began clicking again as well.
That was the beginning of the march toward the championship trophy, as the Warriors outscored the Tigers 17-6 in the third period to take a commanding 38-22 lead into the final quarter and virtually salting things away in the process.
“For whatever reason we were a little out of sync in the second quarter, but we came out with great effort and intensity in the third,” Slayton said. “One of our goals tonight was to make all the hustle plays and win the 50-50 balls, and we were able to do that tonight.”
Omar Banuelos led the Warriors with a game-high 19 points, 10 of those coming in what turned out to be a game-deciding third quarter. Damian Dowd scored eight points of his own, but it was what won’t necessarily show up in the boxscore that told the true story of the senior point guard’s impact on Friday’s victory, as the Dowd held Arcata’s freshman phenom Brandon Bento-Jackson scoreless on the night.
Despite having secured both a regular season championship and now a Niclai tournament title, the Warriors are by no means finished, as they now turn their attention to the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs which begin next week. The who, what and where will be determined Sunday when the brackets and matchups are released by the section seeding committee.
“Winning the Niclai Tournament is special, but it’s all about the next one” Slayton said. “Hopefully we’ve done enough to have earned ourselves a top four seed in the section playoffs.”