By Ray Hamill — The Warriors and Panthers served up a highly entertaining game at McKinleyville High on Friday night, with the visitors coming away with a valuable Big 5 win in girls basketball.
They had to fight all the way for it against a McKinleyville team that is among the most improved on the North Coast, and one that would not have been able to compete like this against the No. 4 Division-IV team in the state a year ago.
There are 302 places separating these two teams in the state rankings, but that gap was barely noticeable on Friday night.
In the end, though, the difference was Del Norte’s Kaleya Sanchez, who took over in the second half, scoring 21 of her game-high 25 points after the interval.
“They made it a priority to get the ball to Sanchez in the second half,” McKinleyville head coach Tony McClure said. “She’s good, and when she wants to try and score. it’s hard to stop her.”
Sanchez had 13 points in the third quarter alone, as the Warriors came out after the break on fire, quickly taking control of the game.
With Sanchez leading the charge, the visitors went on a 17-4 run to turn a two-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead less than five minutes into the third quarter and scored 23 points for the period.
“In the first half, we struggled to get her the ball,” Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton said. “In the second half we made some adjustments.”
To their credit, the Panthers battled back, going on a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter to pull within three points of the visitors.
But that was as close as they would get, with the Warriors doing just enough on defense to hold on late for the win.
“One of these days we’re actually going to play a (complete) game,” Clifton said. “But we’re still adjusting. We’re young. And you’ve got to give it to McKinleyville. They hit their shots and played us tough.”
Jadence Clifton also had a big game for the Warriors, scoring nine points, while Bella Stone had six.
For McKinleyville, Cameron Heenan continued to play well, and the sophomore has become one of the Panthers most reliable players, finishing with a team-high 14 points, seven of them in the fourth quarter.
Rian Heenan added nine points, Theresia Dickey six and Rayn Tripp five.
The Panthers played great defense for three of the four quarters, holding the visitors to just 17 first-half points and just eight in the fourth.
“We continued to get stops, we just couldn’t execute on the offensive end,” McClure said.
With the win, the Warriors improved to 3-0 in the Big 5 and 14-1 overall, and will host Eureka on Wednesday night in a battle of 3-0 Big 5 teams.
The Panthers, who dropped to 10-9 overall and 1-2 in the Big 5, will try to get back on track and end a difficult run of six straight losses against six very strong teams when they travel to play Fortuna in a huge game for both on Wednesday.
In JV action on Friday, McKinleyville defeated Del Norte 57-38.