Basketball

Friday’s NCS Previews — Huskies, Warriors both unlikely underdogs

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Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – Fortuna’s Donald Willis and his teammates will play Branson on Friday night.

By Ray Hamill — It could be an historic weekend for the Humboldt-Del Norte League, which is hoping for a first-ever hat trick of NCS titles in basketball.

The league has won a pair of titles in the same year on four previous occasions, most recently when St. Bernard’s won both a boys and girls championship in 2015.

But never has it managed to claim three in the same year, something it can do this weekend with the Fortuna boys and St. Bernard’s and Del Norte girls all gearing up for a championship showdown.

Only twice before have two different H-DNL schools claimed titles in the same year, when the Eureka and McKinleyville girls did it in 1989, and when the Hoopa Valley and Arcata boys won in 1997.

Ferndale won both a boys and girls NCS crown in 2012.

Interestingly, all three weekend games involving local teams feature the top two seeds in their brackets, so the NCS seedings committee appears to be getting something right.

And two of the H-DNL teams, Fortuna and Del Norte, will go in as slight underdogs despite the fact each is coming off an historic season.

Log on to Humboldt Sports on Friday evening for a preview of Saturday’s girls Division-V decider between No. 1 St. Bernard’s and No. 2 Cloverdale.

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Fortuna’s Drew Gillette, left, and Zac Claus.

Fortuna vs. Branson, 7 p.m. (at College of Marin)

The Huskies are seeded No. 2 in Division IV and will play No. 1 Branson in what looks like one of the most competitive matchups in any section championship this weekend.

Branson is the top-ranked Division-IV team in the state, according to MaxPreps, while Fortuna is No. 3, and between them they have just three losses all season and have won a combined 41 straight games.

On Wednesday, the Huskies pulled away from Saint Mary’s in the fourth quarter in a thrilling 76-62 semifinal, while Branson got the better of Piedmont comfortably by a score of 57-32.

All five Fortuna starters are seniors and they have been playing with a veteran composure, raising the level of their game for the playoffs as the stakes have gotten higher.

In three playoff games, they have put up a season high in points, turned in what their coach described as their best defensive performance of the season, and pulled out a dramatic clutch win when their character was tested the most.

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Fortuna head coach Tony Miles, right, and his bench look on during a recent game.

Not a bad way to prepare them for the biggest game of their young lives.

On Friday they will play in the program’s first ever NCS decider against a team that is looking for a third straight title.

The Bulls (28-2) have won 25 straight since dropping back-to-back games in early December and have held the top D-IV state ranking for most of the season.

They are No. 19 overall in the state, and No. 51 in the nation.

For comparison, Fortuna is No. 65 overall in the state and No. 349 nationally.

That certainly won’t bother the Huskies (29-1), who will relish the occasion and go into a game as underdogs for the first time in a long time.

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Del Norte’s Bella Stone

Del Norte vs. St. Patrick-St. Vincent, 7 p.m. (at Benicia High)

Similar to the Fortuna boys, the Del Norte girls will also travel to play a team riding high in the rankings.

The Warriors are seeded No. 2 in Division IV and will head to Benicia High on Friday to play No. 1 St. Patrick-St. Vincent.

The two programs are also the Nos. 2 and 3 ranked D-IV teams in the state.

The Bruins are 26-3 on the season and have won eight straight, including an inspirational 54-53 over a very good Salesian team that is ranked 14th overall in the state.

The Vallejo school is led by outstanding junior point guard Tameiya Sadler, who is averaging 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.6 assists, all team bests.

For good measure, Sadler also is averaging a remarkable six steals a game.

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The Del Norte players enjoy themselves during a recent game.

Seniors Riley Madayag (12.4 PPG) and Ashmeen Sran (11.1 PPG) are each also offensive threats.

The Warriors, however, present plenty of challenges themselves, with a young but dynamic lineup that has been playing with plenty of confidence and has every reason to do so.

Kaleya Sanchez is enjoying an outstanding season and has been an inspirational leader for the Warriors, with several standout sophomores also contributing, including Bella Stone, Jadence Clifton and Kirsten Brous.

The Del Norte girls will carry plenty of momentum into the game as well, having won 10 straight games and 20 of their past 21.

Their only loss in that time came against South Medford, one of the top teams in Oregon, which needed a miracle half-court shot to even force overtime.

For the season, they are 24-2.

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