Basketball

Fortuna boys fade late, as thrilling ride comes to an end

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Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – Fortuna’s Donald Willis pictured in action during Thursday night’s NorCal game at Fortuna High.

By Ray Hamill — A thrilling season came to an abrupt end for the Fortuna Huskies on Thursday night, as they fell 58-56 to Foothill in the quarterfinals of the NorCal Division-III tournament.

And it was a late letdown that proved costly.

The visiting Cougars rallied from a 12-point deficit early in the fourth with some pinpoint shooting, while the Huskies were held without a basket from play for the final 4:50 of the game.

It was the second major upset for Foothill this week, with the No. 15 seeds knocking off No. 2 Las Lomas on Tuesday.

The Huskies were seeded seventh.

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Fortuna’s Kevin Noel defends during Thursday’s game.

The loss ends the most successful season in program history, a season that saw them post 30 wins, more than any other Humboldt-Del Norte League team has managed in a single season over the past decade.

They also reached a first-ever North Coast Section championship game and qualified for the NorCals, while entertaining the North Coast with an exciting brand of basketball along the way.

Good start

The home team outscored the Cougars in each of the first two quarters and opened up a 10-point gap at halftime.

The visitors, however, battled back in the third quarter to pull within three, only to see the Huskies stretch the gap back out again with a 7-0 run to close out the period.

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There was another capacity crowd at Fortuna High on Thursday.

The Huskies capped that run in the final second of the quarter with a pinpoint court-long pass from an alert Zac Claus to set up a streaking Bradley Willis for an easy layup.

A Claus basket to start the fourth put the Huskies ahead by 12 and many of the capacity crowd would have been forgiven for thinking they were on their way.

They managed just two more baskets from play, however, as the visitors clawed their way back into contention, hitting four 3-pointers for the period and closing out the game on a 21-7 run.

They took the lead on a 3-pointer from Josiah Hutt with 30 seconds remaining.

Fortuna missed two late 3-point attempts to try and tie the game, before a Kevin Noel free throw in the final seconds pulled them within two.

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Noel sent his second attempt hard into the backboard, but the Huskies were unable to pull in the rebound and time ran out.

Bradley Willis paced the Huskies offensively with 20 points, while Drew Gillette finished with 13 points and Claus with 12.

Donald Willis added nine points.

For Foothill, Luke Lindsey scored a game-high 23 points, including back-to-back 3s late in the game to tie the score at 53-53.

Hutt added 18 points, while Hunter Edwards had eight.

Foothill improved to 25-8 and will play No. 3 University in Saturday’s semifinal.

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