By Ray Hamill — It took the Fortuna Huskies a little while to get going on Tuesday night, but once they did they quickly pulled away for an 86-66 win at McKinleyville High and showed exactly why they are a class above the rest of the Big 5 right now.
The Panthers matched the No. 2 Division-IV team in the state stride for stride in the first half, and trailed by just three at halftime.
After the interval, however, the Huskies came out a different team and decisively ended the game as a contest with a 15-3 run to begin the third quarter, and outscored the home team 30-9 for the period.
“In the first half our energy was just low, and (the Panthers) were out-hustling us and wanted it more,” Fortuna head coach Tony Miles said. “In the second half we came out with more intensity and shot better.”
Key to that was the play of senior Zac Claus.
Big night for Claus
On a senior-laden team that has returned all five starters from a year ago, it seems as if the Huskies have a different star step up every game.
Last week, the Willis twins, Bradley and Donald, each finished with a double-double in a win against Arcata, while Drew Gillette and Kevin Noel have each also been instrumental in various games.
On Tuesday, it was Claus who led the way, taking control of the game in the second half with 23 of his game-high 35 points coming after the interval.
Claus hit all six of his free throws and had seven 3-pointers.
“Zac was a monster for us,” Miles said. “He had a very impressive second half.”
Bradley Willis had another double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, while Donald Willis finished with 19 points.
Gillette had 11 points and made good on all six free-throw attempts.
With the win, the Huskies moved to 4-0 in the Big 5 at the halfway stage, and 19-1 overall.
Mack not done yet
McKinleyville, which has now dropped six straight, fell to 0-4 and 7-10.
AJ Stubbs continued to be the Panthers’ most effective offensive threat, finishing with 14 points, while Freddie Sundberg had 11 points and Jake White 10.
Isaac Puzz and Michael Boatright rounded out a balanced team performance with nine and eight points, respectively.
Two of the Panthers’ four losses in the Big 5 came right down to the wire, and they played an elite Fortuna team closer for longer than most teams have managed.
A second straight league championship is now well out of reach for Mack, but a No. 3 seed for the Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament and a possible North Coast Section berth are both still on the table.
Thursday’s game at Arcata is now a must win.
The Huskies will play next at Eureka, also on Thursday.