The Arcata Tigers held on late to defeat Del Norte in Crescent City on Wednesday night to earn themselves at least a share of this year’s Big 5 championship in boys basketball.
The Tigers, who won 41-38 to go to 6-1 in the Big 5, can clinch the title outright with a win at home to Fortuna in Friday night’s league finale, while Del Norte, which dropped to 5-2, closes out at McKinleyville on the same night.
The difference in a close and defensive game on Wednesday was at the free-throw line, with the Tigers making some clutch fourth-quarter attempts while the Warriors missed on many of theirs.
After leading scorer Kai Purcell fouled out midway through the fourth, junior guard Brandon Bento-Jackson led the late charge for Arcata, scoring seven of his game-high 19 points in the final quarter, including going 4-for-4 from the line.
“Brandon definitely stepped up big tonight,” head coach Kellen Maynard said. “He kept us in the game.”
Shane Purcell also made a clutch fee throw to put the Tigers up by three in the dying seconds and forced the home team to attempt a 3 on the final play.
Arcata’s Carson Tucker made a big defensive play on the final attempt.
“Both teams played tremendous defense, but at the end of the day, the free throws in the fourth quarter was the difference,” Maynard said. “They got a ton, we got a ton, and we just made more of ours. Those are big-time free throws.”
Alex Jioras also had a good night for the Tigers and finished with 10 points, while Kai Purcell and Josiah Gomez each chipped in four points, including a huge basket by the latter to give his team a 38-36 lead with under two minutes remaining.
Edwin Zepeda, who finished with a team-high eight points for the Warriors, tied the game once again in the final minute, before Bento-Jackson nailed two free throws with 21 seconds remaining to give his team a lead it would not relinquish.
The Tigers were awarded the league pennant in the locker room after the game, but Maynard quickly rolled it up.
“We celebrated in the locker room, but I specifically told the players that it’s not ours yet,” Maynard said of the pennant. “We don’t want to share. We’ll get it back if we beat Fortuna on Friday.”
The first-year head coach also paid tribute to former coach Dusty Scofield for what he did to help pave the way for this championship.
“It’s just a culmination of the hard work of the guys,” the coach said. “This is a culmination also of what Dusty did. Dusty took the program over when it was struggling, and he built it back up.”
Caleb Dodson had an impact for Del Norte on his first full game back from an injury suffered during the opening week of league play and he finished with seven points, while teammates Adriel Horton and Nani Scott each chipped in six points, Konner Price five and Ethan Thomas four.
The league title is the first for the Tigers since 2017.
Arcata is now 20-3 overall, while Del Norte is 15-5.
Also on Wednesday night, Eureka defeated McKinleyville 46-43, while Fortuna got the better of South Fork 85-67.