The Fortuna boys finally returned to action on Thursday night, exactly 476 days after their last game, which was actually a longer layoff than any other team in the H-DNL.
And it was an exciting return for the team, which rallied from an eight-point deficit to sneak a 56-55 win at home to St. Bernard’s.
Jaden Kelly, one of several key seniors on this year’s roster, helped seal the win when he drained a couple of free throws with just nine seconds remaining to give Fortuna the lead.
“It wasn’t overly pretty, and we made some mistakes,” head coach Norm Sotomayor said. “But at the end we got it done when we needed to.”
The players were grateful to be even able to play.
Earlier in the week it appeared as if their 476 day wait would be extended even longer after a player tested positive for COVID.
Six players have been quarantined, but eight are available to play, seven of whom are seniors, including the clutch Kelly.
“He’s just a smooth left-handed guy who can knock down shots,” Sotomayor said of Kelly.
The multi-talented Branson Gans is also expected to play a key role this season, as is point guard Bo Cox, another multi-talented senior athlete who is coming off a big spring in track and field.
“He’s our floor general,” Sotomayor said of Cox, who scored a team-high 22 points in the win and did a good job defensively on St. Bernard’s standout Lito Pabalate.
The coach added that Gans could be the best athlete in what is a strong Fortuna senior class this year.
“I think he’s going to be a force inside,” Sotomayor said.
Gans, who just finished up a big season in baseball, had 13 rebounds in the win, as well as nine points.
Angel Ornales is another senior the coach expects big things out of this season, and another multi-talented Husky, who is coming off strong seasons in cross country and soccer.
Ornales, who will play soccer at College of the Redwoods next year, brings leadership and intensity on defense, according to his coach.
“I like the fact that I’ve got some true basketball players,” Sotomayor said. “They love to compete and they do everything I ask them to do.”
The first-year head coach, who moves up from the JVs, will change things up slightly for the Huskies this season.
“We want to create pressure in the back court and play a fast-paced game,” he said.
And so far so good for the Huskies, who continue their season at McKinleyville on Tuesday night.