By Ray Hamill — The Del Norte Warriors are enjoying their most impressive season ever in girls basketball, and they continued to roll over North Coast opposition with a 58-44 win over Eureka in the Dick Niclai championship game at HSU’s Lumberjack Arena on Friday night.
The win secured the program’s second-ever Niclai title, and comes just 10 days after the Warriors clinched a first-ever Big 5 title.
“It’s pretty nice,” Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton said in the midst of the celebrations afterwards. “This year has been all about history, and we want to continue making history and go on from here.”
In a season that saw two starters quit on the team, the Warriors have found a way to prevail, growing stronger in face of the adversity.
A team that features three starting sophomores has now won 17 of its past 18 games, including an unbeaten run through the Big 5, with the only loss in that time coming against a very good South Medford team that needed a miracle half-court buzzer-beater to force overtime.
Whether that will be enough to give the Warriors the top seed in the North Coast Section Division-IV playoffs remains to be seen, but this team will be a very difficult out for whoever they meet.
Del Norte was the top-ranked Division-IV team in the section coming into this week, according to MaxPreps, but dropped to No. 2 on Thursday.
Friday’s win over a Division-III Eureka team might be enough to push the Warriors ahead of No. 1 St. Patrick-St. Vincent once again, at least in the eyes of the NCS seedings committee.
“Hopefully it will,” Clifton said. “I’m putting in for the No. 1 seed. I believe we are the No. 1 seed.”
Few people in attendance on Friday night would disagree with the coach’s assessment.
They came out the stronger of the two teams, opening up a quick double-digit lead and keeping the Loggers at arm’s length the remainder of the way.
Once again, senior Kaleya Sanchez was instrumental in the win, helping to set the tone early.
Sanchez, who should be a unanimous Big 5 MVP, scored 10 of her game-high 25 points in the first quarter and 15 in the first half.
The dynamic sophomore guard tandem of Jadence Clifton and Bella Stone were also instrumental in the win, as the Warriors improved to 21-2.
“I’m very proud of the girls, they played hard,” Justin Clifton said. “They protected our lead.”
Jadence Clifton and Stone each finished with 13 points.
Makaila Napoleon led the Loggers with 16 points, but was in foul trouble early, the second coming on a called charge less than halfway through the opening quarter.
“I thought the two quick fouls on Makaila took us out of our potential rhythm,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said. “Coach Clifton trains his kids to drop when there’s contact. I’m not saying it was a flop, but it might have been.
“But their girls worked hard, they rebounded well, and they should be proud.”
Paige Lyons added 10 points for Eureka, which dropped to 19-9, while Sophia Chalmers finished with seven points and Dorshaela Wesson six.
“It’s always fun to play them,” Justin Clifton said of the Loggers. “Mike Harvey does a good job with that team.”
The Loggers are likely to receive the No. 4 seed for the Division-III NCS playoffs, which get under way next week.
“I want a top-four seed, that’s what I want,” Harvey said. “Bring it on. Let’s get it going. It will be nice to play somebody outside of Humboldt County.”
The NCS playoff brackets will be announced early on Sunday.
The Del Norte Warriors previously won the Niclai tournament back in 1998.
Friday’s win over Eureka was their third this season.