The Huskies proved Friday night who the Humboldt-Del Norte League belongs to.
For the second straight year the Fortuna boys basketball team captured the Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament championship, and for the second straight year the Huskies did so in dominating fashion, beating the Del Norte Warriors for the third time this season, this time by a 78-66 margin Friday night at Lumberjack Arena.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Fortuna head coach Tony Miles said. “Like I’ve said many times, this is such a special group of players, they just love playing ball together.”
It was only fitting that the hero of last year’s championship game, Drew Gillette, once again led his Huskies to victory.
The senior hit eight 3-pointers in Fortuna’s championship win over McKinleyville last season.
Friday night he had five including three in the first quarter alone. The first two came back-to-back over a 30-second span inside the first few minutes of the game, the second giving Fortuna its first lead of the night, 8-6.
“It’s great to go back to back,” Gillette said. “But, all I can say is we’re not done yet.”
Gillette connected again from deep near the end of the first to put the Huskies ahead 21-12, and then Bradley Willis took over as the Huskies’ hot hand
Willis, like Gillette, connected on three 3-pointers in the first quarter, his third coming in the final minute to put Fortuna ahead 24-14. Willis also hit a 15-footer at the buzzer, which gave his Huskies a 28-16 lead heading into the second quarter.
Willis led Fortuna with 15 points in the first quarter alone while Gillette had 11.
The second quarter showed no signs of the Huskies cooling down from behind the arc. Zac Claus, last year’s Big 5 Conference MVP and a strong contender to get the award again this year, hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter to keep the Huskies ahead by double-digits.
Del Norte didn’t let the Huskies put the game away before halftime, however, as Ethan Price and Omar Banuelos did a good job of coming up with basket after basket just as it seemed the Huskies were about to run away with the game. With three seconds left in the half Fortuna led by 11 — and then Gillette hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half, this one featuring the senior falling out of bounds and veritably chucking the ball at the hoop.
But it went in, and the Huskies went to the locker room ahead 45-31. As a team, the Huskies made nine 3-pointers in the first half and 15 in the game.
The third quarter saw much of the same from the best shooting team on the North Coast as Willis opened up the half with his fourth 3-pointer of the game. His twin, Donald Willis, followed the basket up with another plus a foul to put Fortuna ahead by 16.
Claus casually hit a few more treys in the third and entering the fourth, the soon-to-be champs led 64-45.
Del Norte did its best to make a game out of it in the fourth as Banuelos made a few shots to get within eight points of the Huskies with three minutes to play
Claus, however, hit yet another 3-ball to keep the Warriors at bay and with two minutes to play the Huskies had reestablished a double-digit lead. Claus finished his night with 22 points including a team-best six 3-pointers, three of which came down the stretch in the fourth quarter to ice the game. Gillette finished with a team-high 23 points, Bradley Willis notched 18 in the win and Donald Willis, nine. Banuelos led Del Norte in scoring with 22 points.
“This was really one of our more exciting games of the season,” Claus said. “I thought we shot well in the first half but we did a way better job of playing team ball in the second. I’ve been playing with these guys my whole life. I remember playing with the twins (Bradley and Donald Willis) in elementary school. We just love playing together.”
The championship win counts as the team’s 13th in a row, moving the Huskies to 26-1 on the year. Now 12-0 against the rest of the HDNL, Friday’s double-digit win only further cements the Huskies as the best team on the North Coast in 2019 and one of the most successful in program history.
Fortuna can set a program record for wins with just one more during postseason as Friday’s win, number 26, ties the team with the 2013-14 Huskies in terms of wins. The Huskies, currently the No. 2 team in North Coast Section D-IV, will undoubtedly receive a high seed when the NCS playoff brackets are announced on Sunday.