By Ray Hamill — The 2022/23 H-DN boys basketball season reminded us why we love the high school game here on the North Coast.
And so too did the Arcata Tigers and McKinleyville Panthers, who served up a classic Dick Niclai Tournament championship game in front of a packed house at Lumberjack Arena.
The best two teams in the area faced off four times this past season, splitting with a pair of wins each.
The Tigers won both league games in comfortable fashion on their way to what was also a comfortable second straight league championship.
But the Panthers got the better of their biggest rivals in a pre-Christmas tournament showdown and in the Niclai final, winning both in dramatic fashion.
More importantly, all four of those matchups were played in front of loud crowds, as the student sections returned in full force and made their voices count.
Elsewhere this season, the Fortuna Huskies threatened to play a big role in the race for a Big 5 championship before their challenge faded, but with most of their players due back next year, including standouts Russell Pascascio and Alfonso Medina, they should be better prepared to contend.
In the Little 4, meanwhile, the South Fork Cubs won a second straight league crown and enjoyed another hugely successful season under the guidance of head coach Taylor Morrow.
The Ferndale Wildcats were among the most improved teams in the league, fielding a far more competitive team and finishing 14-13 after winning just three games a year ago.
The St. Bernard’s Crusaders had an up-and-down campaign but played an exciting brand of basketball and battled for the league title all the way until the final night of action.
The Eureka Loggers, meanwhile, took a while to get going, but they closed out the season playing their best basketball of the campaign and they played in a series of close and exciting games down the stretch.
Al in all, it was a season to savor and one that provided us with numerous thrills.
Here then are some end-of-season awards and our finalists for Humboldt Sports Boys Player of the Year. The winner will be announced this weekend.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
The Arcata Tigers
They may have lost the Niclai championship game in disappointing fashion, but the Tigers were the best team in the H-DN over the course of the season.
They comfortably won a second straight Big 5 championship as a mostly young roster came together far quicker than anticipated under the guidance of head coach Kellen Maynard.
Big 5 co-MVPs Brandon Bento-Jackson and Luke Moxon led the way.
HONORABLE MENTIONS — South Fork and McKinleyville.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Dick Niclai Final
The fourth matchup of the season between the Tigers and Panthers was an instant classic, with McKinleyville rallying from a late nine-point deficit to force overtime and then outscoring their rivals 8-0 in the extra period for a thrilling 60-52 win.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM
With senior standouts Jack Westfall and Kannon Christiansen leading the way, the Cats went from winning just three games last year to 14-13 this winter.
Best Move of the Season
The H-DN opted to play this year’s Niclai semifinals at College of the Redwoods and it was a tremendous success, with local fans packing the gym to see a pair of boys and girls semifinals on back-to-back nights.
TEAMS TO WATCH OUT FOR NEXT YEAR
The Fortuna Huskies came oh so close to battling Arcata and McKinleyville for the Big 5 title, but just didn’t quite have enough.
This group of players, however, should be peaking next year and ready to challenge for more honors.
Standing in their way likely will be the Arcata boys, who will return several key starters including Big 5 co-MVP Luke Moxon.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Kellen Maynard, Arcata Tigers
Maynard established himself as one of the top local high school coaches in the H-DN this winter, guiding the Tigers to a second straight Big 5 championship and the Dick Niclai final.
What’s most impressive is how quickly this new crop of Arcata players have developed into contenders under his watch.
HONORABLE MENTIONS — Cindy Semore Clancy and Tyler Pelascini (McKinleyville) and Taylor Morrow (South Fork)
Boys Player of the Year Finalists
Brandon Bento-Jackson, Arcata Senior
Aaiden Burris, St. Bernard’s Junior
Hans Chalmers, Eureka Senior
Jack Clancy, McKinleyville Senior
John Harding, South Fork Senior
Alfonso Medina, Fortuna, Junior
Luke Moxon, Arcata Sophomore
Owen Shanahan, St. Bernard’s Senior
Cody Whitmer, McKinleyville Senior
Winner will be announced on Humboldt Sports on Saturday.
Categories: Arcata, Basketball, Del Norte, Eureka, Ferndale, Fortuna, Hoopa Valley, McKinleyville, South Fork, St. Bernard's
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