By Ray Hamill — A players only meeting earlier this week appears to have paid off for the Del Norte Warriors, who responded to a disappointing performance on Tuesday with arguably their biggest win of the year on Thursday night.
The difference according to head coach Justin Clifton, was “effort.”
“The girls came out to play,” Clifton said after watching his team pull out a comprehensive 60-39 win at Eureka. “I thought (Tuesday’s loss to McKinleyville) kind of opened their eyes a little bit. They stepped up. We had a really good practice yesterday.”
With the win, the Warriors improved to 2-3 in the Big 5 (11-8 overall), and remain barely alive for a second straight league title, trailing leaders Fortuna (4-1) by two wins with three games remaining.
More importantly, however, this win will give the Del Norte girls a big boost heading into the stretch run of the season, with plenty more to play for than just a league crown.
And the head coach can thank his players for responding the way they did with their season essentially on the line, after senior Selene Ledezma called for the players only meeting.
“She showed up,” the head coach said of Ledezma, who had a big showing in the win. “She wants to win.”
Junior guard Jadence Clifton also stepped up, showing the home crowd just why she is the best high school player on the North Coast this season, with another outstanding performance.
Jadence finished with a game-high 31 points and posted yet another double-double with 10 rebounds.
She is averaging a double-double this year, and also had four steals and three assists in Thursday’s win.
“It was a nice win by Del Norte,” Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said. “They were prepared, and they executed, and they made their shots, and they made their free throws.”
Ledezma added 12 points and four rebounds, while senior sharpshooter Olivia Stilwell had six points on a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers to set an early tone, as well as four rebounds and three assists.
The Warriors led by 12 at halftime and had to withstand a third-quarter rally by the home team, which cut the deficit in half.
The Warriors, however, quickly rediscovered their rhythm to close out the game on a 26-11 run over the final 11 minutes.
“They played really good defense, and they rebounded well,” Justin Clifton said of his players.
Aleesha Lenover epitomized the Warriors’ fighting spirit and determination to keep their season alive, remaining in the game despite suffering what appeared to be a serious arm injury in the first half.
“She came back in the second half,” Justin Clifton said. “She told me ‘you’re going to have to cut my arm off to keep me out.’”
Gianna Taylor added six rebounds for Del Norte, while Kirsten Brous added four rebounds and three steals.
The loss knocked the Loggers out of a tie with Fortuna for first in the Big 5, as they dropped to 3-2 in league and 16-6 overall.
They remain well in contention for the league championship, however, with three games remaining, including a huge matchup with Fortuna on senior night next Wednesday.
“Del Norte responded and hat’s off to them,” Harvey said. “But our girls played hard. They didn’t play their best game but they played hard.”
Mailia Guilbert led the home team with 14 points, while Sophia Chalmers added nine points.