By Ray Hamill — One of the best rivalries in all of H-DNL sports will be renewed on Friday night when the Arcata Tigers host the McKinleyville Panthers in the Dick Niclai boys tournament championship game.
The Northern Humboldt neighbors each comfortably won their semifinal matchups on Thursday night, with the Tigers defeating St. Bernard’s 75-60 at Arcata High and Mack getting the better of South Fork 82-50 in Miranda.
Friday’s showdown for the Niclai title will be the third meeting between the two rivals this season, with each having one win.
“It’s going to be a very hungry McKinleyville team,” Arcata head coach Kellen Maynard said. “They beat us once, and we beat them once, and now we get to the chance to play for one of the ultimate prizes (in local basketball) to break that tie.”
Arcata’s Kai Purcell had a huge night in Thursday’s win, scoring a game-high 32 points and causing the Crusaders defense problems all night long.
“This was his night, his game,” Maynard said of the senior. “Kai was the man tonight, and he wanted to play in the championship game.
“Obviously when Kai does something so special like he did tonight, you have to take a deep breath and be glad he’s on your team.”
The Crusaders matched up well against the Big 5 champions for the opening quarter, but the Tigers began to take control in the second quarter and went on a 20-7 run to lead by 13 at halftime.
The Tigers were able to keep a potent Crusaders offense at bay for the remainder of the game, maintaining their double-digit lead over the final two quarters.
“I thought that for the most part our energy and our effort was really good,” Maynard said. “We talked about it in the pregame, and our word of the day was effort.
“We knew we couldn’t take plays off against St. Bernard’s, because they would hurt us if we did that.”
Brandon Bento-Jackson also had a good night in the win and finished with 17 points, including a couple of big 3s, while Alex Jioras chipped in 12 points and played particularly well early on to help get his team going.
Aaiden Burris scored a team-high 23 points for the Crusaders, who battled the entire game, pulling to within 10 points late.
Aidan Dorsch added 13 points, while Owen Shanahan finished with seven points and Peyton Smith and Seth Dyer six apiece.
The Tigers, who are now 22-3, have won nine straight games, with their last loss coming against McKinleyville on Jan. 6.
Friday’s championship game will be broadcast live on MIX 95.1 FM, with the pregame show starting at 6:45 p.m. and tip off set for 7.
The St. Bernard’s boys, who are now 17-8, will now turn their attention to the NCS playoffs, which get under way next week.
The Crusaders will find out their playoff seed and opponent on Sunday.