-- Like the drum beat resounding throughout the Hoopa High gym during Saturday night's North Coast Section Division V boys basketball championship game, the Warriors themselves were just as relentless.
And in the end that turned out to be more than enough to carry them to the NCS title, accounting for Branson, 43-37 in another thrilling contest. Once again, there was no one star that stood out for the home team, but rather a plethora of them, most notably on the defensive side of the ball, where this game, and indeed this championship, was won.
The outcome was also somewhat predictable, even if it wasn't easily achieved, as once again the Warriors fell behind early, before coming back to slowly pull away late in the game. The win guarantees the Warriors at least one more home game in the NorCal Tournament, which gets under way Tuesday night.
Both of Saturday night's NCS finalists will move on to the NorCals, an eight-team tournament featuring two teams from each of the Northern California sections, with the four section champions hosting. And hosting might be a good thing for the Warriors, as it has been all week, where they have won four consecutive postseason games, each one progressively a little tighter than the previous.
In the end, though, a rapturous home crowd fueled the Warriors to victory, that and their relentless defense, which wore down the visitors, holding them to single digits in scoring in three of the four quarters.
Junior cemter Everest Schmidt was once again instrumental in the win, dominating the paint at both ends of the court, and finishing with a game-high 13 points, as well as 11 rebounds, five blocked shots, three steals and three assists.
Lawrence Tracy, inspirational in Friday's semifinal victory over University, again took a central role in Saturday's game, accounting for 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Tracy nailed a pair of 3s, the second of which capped a 7-2 run late in the third quarter, as the Warriors took command of the game and opened up a seven-point lead.
Branson, which knocked the Warriors out of the playoffs two years ago, refused to roll over, though, and kept it close enough through much of the fourth quarter to at least make for an interesting finish.
Peter McNally and Wesley Newhouse each scored 10 points to pace young Branson side, featuring just one senior on the 14-player roster.
Jude Marshall added 10 points for the home team, including a pair of 3s, while Keoki Burbank finished with six points, including a big 3-pointer late in the first half to pull Hoopa within one at halftime.
The game was a defensive battle throughout, particularly in the first half, with Branson leading 17-16 at the break.
The Hoopa defensive intensity was even more noticeable afgter the interval, as the No. 1 seeded Warriors held the No. 2 seeds to just two baskets from the field for the third quarter.
Neither team was able to gain much momentum early on, as both battled back and forth with the lead switching hands numerous times throughout the first half.
The furthest the Warriors fell behind was by four, and after taking the lead on a Schmidt basket one minute into the second half, they never trailed after that.
Issac Bussell, who had another strong night handling the ball, followed that Schmidt basket with a steal which he took coast to coast for a basket.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors were unable to completely put Branson away until the final 90 seconds when they stretched the gap to a nine on a pair of Marshall free throws.