The Hoopa Warriors showed no ill-effects from a near month-long layoff on Thursday night, as they returned to action with a stunning 59-52 win over St. Bernard’s in boys basketball.
The win was just the second of the season for the Warriors, who had struggled early in the campaign and had not played a game since Dec. 11.
Brendan Baldy and Ben Hunsucker each were outstanding for the Warriors, and “everyone else played their roles to perfection,” according to head coach Roman Hutt.
Especially when executing the team’s fourth-quarter defense.
The Warriors were clutch late in the game, holding the visiting Crusaders without a field goal for the final period on the way to overcoming a five-point deficit.
“What most impressed me was our fourth-quarter defense,” said Hutt, whose team only allowed four points for the period, all from the free-throw line. “And I like how they didn’t let the St. Bernard’s pressure rattle them.”
Baldy scored a game-high 20 points in the win, while Hunsucker was equally effective and finished with 18 points.
The Warriors started the game the stronger of the two teams and led by four after the first quarter.
But the visitors, who were playing without two key starters, outscored the Warriors 18-9 in the second quarter to open up a five-point lead.
The two teams matched each other 17-17 in the third quarter before the Hoopa defense stepped up late to seal the win.
“Our defensive rotation has definitely improved,” Hutt said. “As well as our passing on offense.”
Johnny Martinez was instrumental in the big finish, converting two fourth-quarter steals for layups and then hitting the game-sealing 3.
“They were ecstatic,” Hutt said of his players. “And they were happy to get a win in front of a home crowd.”
The game was the last featuring spectators until Jan. 23 because of COVID protocols.
The Crusaders were playing without Owen Shanahan and Drew Vizenor, two MVP caliber players, and they also lost Aaiden Burris to an ankle injury early in the game.
Aidan Dorsch scored a team-high 17 points in the loss, while teammate Seth Dyer added 15 points.
The Crusaders, who are the No. 3 Division-6 team in all of California, according to MaxPreps, dropped to 0-1 in the Little 4 and 11-3 overall.
Despite the loss, they should still compete for a conference title and should be among the top teams in the entire H-DNL and challenge for the Dick Niclai championship when at full strength.
With the win, Hoopa improved to 1-0 in the Little 4 and 2-8 overall.
Next up, on Thursday of next week, St. Bernard’s plays at Ferndale and Hoopa plays at South Fork.