Huskies top Tigers, earn Big 5 #1 seed for Niclai and NCS; Wildcats, Lady Cats and Lady Huskies move to 2nd round

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

A raucous, standing room only crowd at Fortuna High's Damon Gym watched their Huskies rise to the occasion to beat down the visiting Arcata Tigers in a tie-breaker, winner take all game between the Big 5 co-champs, last Friday night.

The Huskies responded to their cheering home crowd and jumped to the early lead. Getting everyone involved in the offense, five different players scored in the first period as the home team raced to a 16-9 advantage by quarters end. Arcata responded with defensive adjustments and a run of their own. However, the two teams each scored 15 points in the second quarter and the early advantage the Huskies had crafted held up to the halftime break with the score at 31-24.

The third period started with the heavy hitters taking center stage, a Nate Ambrosini basket for Fortuna, then a Will Taylor bucket for Arcata. The two teams traded punches until the Tigers went on a mid-quarter run. A Latrell Wilson 3-pointer and his two free throws brought Arcata to just two points down (36-34) at the 3:41 mark of the period. Fortuna did not panic and Ambrosini hit his own jumper and a pair of free throws to expand the lead to six points. Meanwhile, Fortuna defensive specialist Daniel Teasley was playing tough on Arcata's Will Taylor and Husky point guard Justin Claus settled his team down for the stretch run. Claus and Ambrosini combined for two straight Husky baskets while the Tigers came up empty on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter, the Fortuna lead jumped to 10 points.

The Tigers answered with another push, but could get no closer than a seven point deficit. Fortuna regained a double-digit lead with two minutes to play and expanded it to 14 points as the clock wound down, making for a final score of 62-48. Fortuna lefty Nate Ambrosini topped all with his 21 points, he also pulled down eight rebounds and shot 9 for 12 from the free throw line. Justin Claus canned 14 points and dished out six assists, Daniel Teasley contributed nine points, six rebounds and some great defense. Just as important was the quality play of Husky teammates Coleton Betts, Max Betts, Ryan Gilroy and Kyle Franck. A complete team effort by Fortuna brought about a great win for the program.

"It was a great crowd tonight, an awesome atmosphere," spoke Fortuna head coach Joe Rice after the game, "we came out physical and aggressive tonight and built a lead, we knew they would keep coming at us so we had match that intensity." The win afforded the Fortuna Huskies the #1 seed and a first round bye in this weeks Dick Niclai Tournament. The Huskies were set to host the Ferndale Wildcats in the second round Wednesday night as we went to press. Also looking ahead, the win earned Fortuna the automatic bid as the Big 5 champion in the upcoming North Coast Section playoffs and perhaps another home game before that incredible home crowd.

Speaking of the Ferndale Wildcats, they broke a three game losing streak and pulled off a big win 68-61 on the road at St. Bernard's in the first round of this weeks Niclai Tourney. In a showdown on the Little 4 side of the bracket, the Cats were led by the sudden offense of Jacoby Hughes as he dropped five 3-pointers on the Crusaders, to finish with a team-high 18 points. Ferndale center Hunter Van Emmerik chipped in 17 points and Chris Catana added 10 for the Cats. Ferndale's rebounding on both ends of the court was huge as Kaden Zanone and Ike Townsend, along with Hughes and Van Emmerik cleared the boards, often allowing St. Bernard's just one shot per possession.

The win was an important one for the Ferndale Wildcats as they saw a four-game win streak interrupted by a three-game losing streak as the regular season came to an end. The losing streak coincided with a two week battle with the flu for Ferndale head coach Steve Coppini.

"We needed that win (at St. Bernard's) for NCS seeding coming up, but also to get the team back on the winning track as well," said Coppini mid-week. It will be a tough undertaking for the Cats in the next round as they travel to Fortuna to take on the #1 seeded Huskies -- however, walking away with some positives will be just as important with North Coast Section playoffs just around the corner.

Big news for the girls as well: The Ferndale Lady Cats completed their league mission and their road win at South Fork in the regular season finale finished off an unbeaten run in the Little 4. Ferndale defensive play led to a 37-17 victory on the Cubs' home court as the Cats improved to 6-0 in league and 17-6 overall, repeating as Little 4 Conference champions for the second year in a row. Kendra Losa provided much of the offense in the low-scoring game as she hit for 14 points. Meagan Earley and Maci Branstetter each contributed 7 points. With a first round bye in the Niclai Tournament, the Lady Cats await their foe from the Fortuna at Eureka first round pairing, the Huskies. So it will be Fortuna at Ferndale Thursday evening at 7 p.m.

The Fortuna Huskies pulled off their own huge win this past Tuesday evening at Eureka. As the #3 seed on the Big 5 side of the Niclai bracket, the Huskies were 0-2 against the Lady Loggers this season. One of those losses was a tough overtime setback on the Huskies home court. So the tournament win by Fortuna was certainly just what the doctor ordered as the season winds down. The Huskies outscored the Loggers in both the first and second quarters, then were outscored by the opponents in both the final two quarters. In a white-knuckle thriller, the Huskies hung on for the 55-54 victory.

Fortuna's Sophie Northern hit for a game high 20 points, she got 11 points from teammate Devon Nielsen and 10 more from Merritt Schoenhofer. Eureka scored the last 10 points in the game, making for a wild finish to the opening round game. So thanks to a Ferndale versus Fortuna matchup for both the boys and the girls in the Niclai Tournament semifinal rounds, local fans will see their favorite team in the championship game of the Niclai on Friday night at Humboldt State University. Girls tip off at 6 p.m., boys at 8 p.m., and it doesn't get any better than that for Eel River Valley basketball.

Photo by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

1. Fortuna's Nate Ambrosini dribbles on the perimeter under the watchful eye of Arcata defender Latrell Wilson in the Feb. 8 Big 5 showdown. Both Ambrosini (21 points) and Wilson (16 points) led their respective teams in scoring however, it was the Huskies that took the victory and the bragging rights as the best team in the H-DN with their 62-48 win.

2. Ferndale's Kendra Losa (center) gives teammate Meagan Earley (No. 11) a look as she cuts to the middle between McKinleyville defenders in the non-conference game won by the Lady Cats 52-46 on Feb. 8. Two nights later the Wildcats polished off the regular season going a perfect 6-0 in the Little 4 with their 37-17 road win over South Fork. Ferndale earned a first round bye in the Niclai Tournament and will be a big factor in the upcoming NCS playoffs.