Ferndale/Fortuna kick off 2012 HDN basketball action; Lady Huskies nip Wildcats in defensive thriller

Mark Lourenzo, Beacon Correspondent

The year 2011 came to an end and so did the preseason tournament action for local prep basketball teams as the focus now becomes the all important league matchups for both Fortuna and Ferndale High. What better way to kick off 2012 than the Ferndale versus Fortuna matchups this week on the hardwood. Last Tuesday evening saw a defensive thriller between the Lady Huskies and the Wildcats. That game went down to the wire before Fortuna hung on for the win. The next evening would see the boys edition as the Wildcats were set to take the trek across the bridge and take on the Huskies.

The Fortuna Lady Huskies sure had an ambitious road schedule this past month of December. The Huskies attended four out of town tournaments during the month playing a total of 14 games far from home. Against tough competition at big time venues like the Nike Tournament in Arizona and the West Coast Jamboree, the Huskies amassed a record of 6-8 to kick off their campaign. One theme that has emerged from the preseason is that Fortuna plays tough defense and grinds it out in low scoring games. Win or lose, the scores have hovered around forty points for the Lady Huskies.

"I think we are the best 6-8 team our there, we have played stiff competition and are better for it," said first year Fortuna varsity coach Macky McCullough. "We are young but we've grown up in the process of the preseason travel, we are more than ready for HDN play," added McCullough. The Ferndale Lady Cats also came into this week with a preseason record of 6-8 under head coach Kristie Christiansen. The Cats finished December with three out of town tournaments and won consolation at the just completed Rincon Valley Tournament.

"We are doing pretty well, our defense continues to spark us and our offense is coming along," commented coach Christiansen on the preseason. "We played well in our last tournament and are looking forward to league." So coming into Tuesday night's game at Ferndale High both the Huskies and Wildcats were ready to play tough defense and grind it out if necessary. The game followed the script as the defense's took center stage in a game that was physical and low scoring.

Ferndale jumped to an early lead as Fortuna missed shots in the first quarter and scored just 7 points in the opening period. The Huskies responded with even tougher defense in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Holding Ferndale to just 7 points in the 2nd period, Fortuna took a 18-17 lead into half-time. Doing one better, the Huskies held the Cats to just 6 points in the 3rd quarter to eke out a slim six point lead going into the final period. But no so fast, as Ferndale hit two three-point shots in the final period to make thing interesting all the way to the end before Fortuna hung on for the 41-37 win.

Ferndale play maker Meagan Earley led all scorers with her 16 points, Kendra Losa and Maci Branstetter each added six points for the Cats. Fortuna countered with 15 points by Mellisa Morrison and 7 points from Sophie Northern. The inside presence of Morrison and Merritt Schoenhofer for Fortuna was a challenge for the Ferndale defense. Wildcat center Mackenzie Burgess had her hands full inside until fouling out midway through the final quarter, her final two fouls were on questionable calls just a minute apart from each other.

"Credit Ferndale for their tough man to man defense, we didn't attack well or play to our potential," said Fortuna coach Macky McCullough after the win. "We want to go out and play good defense then come down and pound it inside, but we missed 17 free throws tonight and that hurt us," added McCullough. The Huskies did however dodge the bullet and got the win despite a less than perfect game. "We played our hearts out and we were very happy with the effort, the only thing I would change would have been the final score," commented Ferndale coach Kristie Christiansen after the tough loss.

Both Ferndale and Fortuna are rather young this year and will look to improve on Tuesday nights game. Fortuna was scheduled to host league opponent Arcata this Thursday evening in the Big Five opener for both teams. Ferndale will travel to St. Bernard's for a Little Four match up on the same evening. In the opening game last Tuesday Fortuna cruised to a 58-21 win over Ferndale in the girls junior varsity contest. The win took the Lady Huskies record to 14-0 on the season while the Cats continue to struggle against the bigger schools, but should fare better once league play starts.

photo captions:

photos by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

1. Fortuna Husky Nate Ambrosini goes up high to get his shot over Ferndale's Chris Catana in last week's local shootout on the hardwood. While Ferndale appeared quite rusty, Fortuna never looked better on the court and the Huskies beat the Cats in boys varsity basketball for the first time in three seasons.

2. Ferndale's Jacoby Hughes eyes the basket on a fast break lay-in for two points despite the distraction of a St. Bernard's defender. The Wildcats pulled it together just in time for their league opener last Friday night and defended home court in their 59-39 win over the Crusaders.