The Del Norte girls’ varsity basketball team came into its final home Big Five Conference home game Wednesday evening against the Arcata Tigers knowing full well that a win was essential if the squad had any hopes of continuing its season past this week.
On what was also Senior Night for twins Ashley and Aleesha Lenover, along with Selene Ledezma and Olivia Stilwell, the contest began as if both teams knew their seasons were on the line, as the opening minutes of action saw a combination of turnovers and missed shots from both teams and very little fluidity on either end of the floor.
After a less than stellar first quarter, the Warriors began to find themselves on both ends of the court beginning in the second stanza, turning the Tigers over defensively and converting those into transition opportunities at the offensive end of the court. The end result of that eight minute stretch was the home team outscoring the Tigers 20-13 and taking a 29-18 lead into the locker room at intermission.
That momentum carried over into the second half, as the Warriors opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run, extending their advantage to 37-18 with 4:17 remaining in the quarter, and it seemed as though the home team was well on its way to a comfortable victory.
That is when things got interesting, much too interesting for the home team and its coaching staff’s liking, not to mention the partisan Thunen Gymnasium crowd, as the Tigers ratcheted up their pressure defense and began to force turnovers in bunches. The Warriors committed 12 turnovers in the third quarter alone, while the Tigers turned each and every miscue into baskets at their own offensive end of the court. Making matters worse for the home team, guard Jadence Clifton picked up three fouls in the space of two minutes as the Tigers were surging back into the game, forcing the junior to the bench for the final three minutes of the period.
Despite all of the chaos, and a 10-0 Tigers run to close the third quarter, the Warriors managed to hold on to a 37-28 lead entering the final period. However, with Clifton still on the bench in foul trouble, the Tigers continued to apply suffocating pressure on the perimeter, continuing to force turnovers and turning those miscues into transition baskets, whether it be from 3-point range or at the rim.
When all was said and done, the Tigers outscored the Warriors 20-2 over a nine minute stretch to close the third quarter and start the fourth, cutting what had been a 19-point Warrior lead down to 39-38 with just under three minutes remaining in regulation.
The avalanche of Tigers momentum was stopped briefly, as Clifton wasted little time in making her presence felt after having been relegated to the bench in foul trouble, converting a 3-point play to give the Warriors a 42-38 lead that they would not relinquish. Two free throws from Kirsten Brous and an offensive conversion from Aleesha Lenover on consecutive possessions, coupled with sound Warrior defense down the stretch enabled the home team to finally close the deal and breathe a collective huge sigh of relief.
The Warriors return to the court Friday evening when they wrap up the Big Five Conference regular season with a trip to McKinleyville to take on the Panthers at McKinleyville High School.