By Ray Hamill — The Warriors are ready for the North Coast Section playoffs.
That much was apparent on Friday night, as they cruised to a Dick Niclai championship in boys basketball, getting the better of Arcata 46-35 at Lumberjack Arena.
The victory completes a Big 5 and Niclai double for a Del Norte team that has not lost to North Coast opposition all season long, and one that has now won 19 straight games.
“I thought as a group, they played really well,” head coach Marc Slayton said of his players. “As a coach, I’m really pleased and really proud. I think they wanted it and they came out and played fantastic basketball.”
They certainly did, and aside from a slight lull in the second quarter there was little to fault about the Del Norte performance.
Especially defensively, where the held a quality Arcata team to single digits in scoring in three of the four quarters.
“We played defense about as well as we could have for four quarters,” the head coach said. “I thought we got after them. We played with the effort we knew we needed to win.”
Slayton made history with the win, becoming the first head coach to win both a boys and girls Niclai championship, having also won with the Del Norte girls back in 1998.
The Warriors started the stronger of the two teams, taking an early lead and never relinquishing the advantage.
They led 18-9 after the opening quarter, but saw the advantage cut to five going into the break after being outscored 7-3 in the second quarter.
They quickly got back on track after the break, outscoring the Tigers 17-6 in the third to all but end the game as a contest.
“I thought that our effort after halftime and our focus after halftime was the difference,” Slayton said.
Omar Banuelos, who is enjoying an MVP-type season, led the way offensively for Del Norte, scoring a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers,
But it wasn’t just his perimeter shooting that had an impact.
“Omar hit some big 3s, but I thought it was his 2s that was the difference,” the head coach said. “He was under control. He was just really good tonight.”
He wasn’t alone, and what makes this Del Norte team special is the way they play as a team.
Anthony Slayton and Kaleb Price each also continued to impress and did a good job controlling the boards, something the Warriors have done effectively most of the season.
They each also finished with five points.
Damian Dowd also had a big night, scoring eight points, but contributing way more than just that.
“Damian Dowd attacked the basket tonight better than he has all year,” the head coach said. “We’re a better team when he attacks the basket. He’s our spark plug at the offensive end.”
Kobe Mitchell also impressed.
For Arcata, which has now lost three times to the Warriors this season, Garrett Hall scored a team-high 11 points, nine of them in the first half.
Mason Railsback added six points and Marcus Bensen five.
The Niclai championship is the fifth for the Del Norte boys, and their first since 2008.
The Warriors improved to 22-1, while the Tigers dropped to 19-10.
Both teams will find out their North Coast Section playoff seeding and opponent on Sunday.