The Big 5 is now essentially a two-horse race after the Tigers defeated Fortuna 68-52 at Arcata High on Friday night, ending the Huskies championship hopes.
The win keeps the Tigers perfect in league play at 5-0, with three games remaining, including a huge showdown at McKinleyville next Thursday in a game that is looking more and more like a championship decider.
The Panthers kept the pressure on the league leaders with a hard-fought 50-40 win at Del Norte on Friday night.
The Panthers are now 3-1 in the Big 5 and can still clinch at least a share of the title with wins in their final four games, three of which will take place within five days next week.
The Tigers outscored the Huskies in each of the first three quarters, opening up a six-point lead after the first and stretching the advantage to 14 by halftime.
Luke Moxon was instrumental in the win and scored a team-high 17 points, while Brandon Bento-Jackson finished with 13 points and Dawson Vallerga had 11 points.
Senior Josiah Gomez suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and was forced from the game, but head coach Kellen Maynard said the injury is not as serious as the one he suffered earlier in the season and is confident he will be back in time for the game at McKinleyville.
And after “escaping” from Fortuna with a victory last week, as he described it, Maynard was more than happy with his team’s performance this time around.
“I felt our intensity and our effort was on par tonight,” he said, adding that “we got off to a good start, we ran our actions, our defensive intensity and attention to the game plan were perfect.”
Dayquan Dunn was instrumental in the victory, as he continues to play a pivotal role for the team in the paint.
“Dayquan had probably one of his best games since he came back,” the head coach said. “He battled (Jake) Houseworth and Houseworth’s a monster, he’s so physically demanding. Dayquan held his own. He battled for every rebound. He was the key for us in the first half.”
Alfonso Medina had a huge game for the visitors and kept them in the game throughout, finishing with a game-high 21 points.
“He was great tonight,” Maynard said of the junior guard. “He just decided that he was going to try and win the game and took it over.”
Russell Pascascio added 10 points in the loss, while Houseworth finished with seven points.
With the loss, the Huskies dropped to 2-3 in the Big 5 and 14-8 overall, while Arcata is now 12-6 overall.
The Panthers, meanwhile, had to battle all the way in Crescent City, a place where it’s never easy to win.
A Brody Mattz 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter gave the Warriors a one-point lead heading into the fourth after what had been a back-and-forth game with the lead changing hands several times.
That continued to be the case up until the final two minutes, when the visitors stretched a three-point advantage out to 10 to seal the win.
A clutch Jordan Brown 3-pointer in the final minute was the game clincher.
Brown and Jack Clancy each scored a team-high 13 points in the win, as the Panthers improved to 17-4 overall.
Cody Whitmer added 12 points and Cameron Hooven chipped in five and the Panthers’ defense held the home team to just 12 points in the second half.
Del Norte was led offensively by Wyatt Robson, who finished with a game-high 15 points, 12 of them in the first half, while Lyon Rigden scored six and Mattz Merrick Crabb and Kai Russel each chipped in five points.
“We are consistently making some young team mistakes,” Del Norte head coach Cris Rice said. “But I was proud of my boys. They played hard, we just need to find more ways to score.
“That’s a good (McKinleyville) team. They haven’t lost much.”
Mattz had a big game, as did Westyn Fitch, who “gave us a huge spark off the bench and played really well,” according to his coach.
The Warriors dropped to 1-3 at the halfway stage of their league schedule (8-12 overall), and the coach says the goal now is to win out.
Next up, on Tuesday night, the Warriors host Eureka and the Panthers travel to Fortuna for the first of two huge games within three days that will determine their league challenge.