Del Norte tops Fortuna

Brian Fulmer

The Times-Standard

ARCATA -- It was a tale of two halves for the Del Norte boys basketball team in the Dick Niclai championship game Friday.

The Warriors came out flat to start the game, trailing by as many as eight points before going to halftime down 25-20 to the Fortuna Huskies.

But the giant awoke in the second half.

Del Norte utilized a stifling defense to outscore the Huskies by 17 points in the second half en route to a 61-49 victory in the championship game of the Humboldt-Del Norte League's postseason tournament.

"It was their defense," Fortuna coach Bob Smith said. "Del Norte plays a great, great defense and we just couldn't get past them. We played well, I'm extremely proud of these guys. We just ran into a great team."

Fortuna got started immediately when Del Norte center Jason Porter knocked the opening tip-off into the hands of Huskies forward Kyle Siler, who drove to the basket and scored to give Fortuna the early lead.

Del Norte forward Flynt Pierce answered with a five-foot jumper at the other end, but Fortuna scored the next six points and led 8-2 midway through the first quarter.

And the Huskies got hot from behind the arc.

Siler, who led Fortuna with 15 points on five 3-pointers, and Huskies guard Casey Denning led a barrage of 3-point shots that put Fortuna up 17-11 after one quarter.

The Warriors held the Huskies scoreless over the first four minutes and 15 seconds of the second quarter, however, and got within two points of the Huskies in the second quarter before going to the intermission down by five.

But the Warriors, who improve to 25-3, had swung the momentum in their favor, however, and Del Norte took the lead for good with a minute remaining in the third quarter when Warriors forward Darren Brous drove to the basket and was fouled by Siler, who was hit with a technical foul after protesting the official's call.

Brous hit one of his two free-throw attempts and Pierce, who led the Warriors with 16 points, hit both of the technical foul shots to give Del Norte a 34-33 lead.

And the Warriors would never look back.

Led by Pierce and guard AJ Webster, the Warriors maintained a one-point lead after three quarters but Del Norte would pull away.

Webster stole the ball from Fortuna's Blake Renner with six minutes left and drove the length of the court before scoring to put the Warriors up by six.

And Webster found Pierce underneath the basket to put Del Norte up 53-43 with three minutes remaining.

"I really don't know what happened," Denning said. "We just came out kind of flat and we were kind of surprised."

The Huskies, who had 16 3-point shots in the game, made a late run to get within striking distance after the Warriors had built a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But the shots that fell for Fortuna to open the game would not go for the Huskies in the final quarter, and the Warriors scored six straight points late in the fourth quarter that broke the Huskies' backs.

"I just think that our guys came out and played hard, they played a great game," Warriors coach Kirk Burrows said. "We lacked intensity to start the game, and Fortuna has a great team. We just stepped it up after the half."

"(Del Norte) has got to get a lot of credit, they are a great team, they play hard, and they are extremely well-coached," Smith said. "But if you to the library and look up the word 'team' you would see a picture of (the Huskies). These guys all played so hard, it was a great game."

Brous and Coulson each had 9 points for the Warriors, while Denning added 11 for the Huskies.

"Del Norte played great," Denning said. "We're a young team and we will learn a lot from this experience. This is only our second time (in the Niclai championship game), but we'll be back."