And when the clock hit zero, the Huskies had left no doubt which team is the best in Humboldt County.
Fortuna claimed its first Niclai title since 1995 in convincing fashion, pulling away from Hoopa Valley in the second half for a 67-40 win last Friday night.
”Coach told us the last couple of years to remember how that felt,” said senior forward Nate Ambrosini, who scored a game-high 20 points. “It's a big win for us. It's not only huge for us seniors, but for our whole team.”
The veteran Huskies -- who lost to the Tigers 49-48 in 2011 and 59-54 in overtime in 2012, respectively -- won for the 21st time in the last 22 games, improving their overall record to 23-2.
The Warriors fell to 21-5 on the season, suffering their first loss since the first week of January.
Both teams, who went undefeated during the league portion of their schedules, are expected to be high seeds when the North Coast Section playoff brackets are released on Sunday.
”I hoped that being here (in a Niclai final) would help us. I think we got caught up in the moment in the first quarter a little bit because we were shooting so many 3s,” Fortuna head coach Joe Rice said.
Ambrosini was one of five Huskies to score in double figures against the Warriors. Every Fortuna player that was on the scoresheet Friday had at least 10 points.
”We're the most unselfish team in the H-DN. We share the ball so well,” said senior guard Max Betts, who had 14 points. “All together it was a team win, we played as a complete unit tonight.”
The Huskies started 0 of 7 from behind the 3-point line, allowing the Warriors to take an early 10-6 lead, with senior forward Milton Stewart scoring his team's first six points of the game.
But like so many times before, it wasn't a matter of if the Huskies would make a run, it was simply a matter of when.
And come the final four minutes of the second quarter, that's exactly what happened.
Fortuna closed the first half on a 14-2 run, stretching a three-point lead (19-16) into a 15-point advantage (33-18) going into halftime.
Ambrosini hit a 3-pointer in the right corner on consecutive possessions to give the Huskies their first double-digit lead of the night at 31-18 with a minute to go before the half. Colton Betts bookended the Ambrosini treys with a putback and the final basket of the run, a layup in transition.
Junior forward Daniel Teasley finished with 13 points, while Betts and Kyle Franck both had 10 points in the game.
”Those were huge. It spread the floor out for us,” Rice said of Ambrosini's back-to-back 3-pointers.
In total, the Huskies outscored the Warriors 22-8 in the second quarter, and 27-8 after Hoopa held a 10-6 lead with three minutes to go in the first quarter.
”We just didn't respond very well to the pressure,” Hoopa Valley head coach Tony McClure said. “Fortuna did a good job pressuring us, but we've played teams who have pressured us. We just lost our focus and didn't play our game.”
But the Huskies' defense was just impressive as their lead grew even larger in the second half.
Stewart shared the game high in points with Ambrosini, scoring 20 points and hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the loss. Logan Ferris was the only other Warrior to score in double figures, finishing with 11.
The biggest victim of the Huskies' swarming defense was the Warriors' second leading scorer, senior guard Tule O'Rourke. He entered the championship tilt averaging 13.4 points, but was limited to just two against Fortuna.
The reason why was easy for Rice to pinpoint.
”Max shut O'Rourke down and his defense was tremendous,” Rice said. “I thought Max was fantastic. He's such a smart player and he used that to his advantage tonight.”
José Quezada/For The Times-Standard
Fortuna High's Max Betts soars to the basket for two of his 14 points against Hoopa Valley High on Friday night.