The Mad Ants are a victory away from the D-League title.
Fort Wayne defeated Santa Cruz 102-92 in Game 1 of the finals Thursday night in Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California.
The series shifts to Memorial Coliseum with Game 2 scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, will be at 7 p.m. Monday in the Coliseum.
Tony Mitchell scored 25 points Thursday to lead the Mad Ants, and Ron Howard, who was named the D-League co-MVP before the game, scored 23.
The Mad Ants' Matt Bouldin scored 13, and Trey McKinney Jones and Will Frisby each added 12. Sadiel Rojas scored 10.
Cameron Jones scored 24 for Santa Cruz, and Seth Curry scored 18.
Santa Cruz scored the first six points, but Fort Wayne stormed back with an 12-2 run to take a 12-8 lead with 7:24 to play in the opening quarter.
The Warriors cut their deficit to 14-12 with 6:40 left in the first, only to see the Mad Ants go on another big run and take a 25-12 after Howard's layup with 3:21 left in the quarter.
Fort Wayne closed the first quarter with a 31-23 lead, but Santa Cruz erased its deficit in the opening 3 minutes of the second quarter with a 10-2 run to tie the game at 33 with 8:57 left in the first half.
The teams exchanged the lead nine times over the next 3:47 minutes before Mitchell's layup gave the Mad Ants a 45-42 lead with 5:10 left in the half.
Santa Cruz was able to tie the game twice before the end of the half, but after drawing even at 48 with 3:16 left, the Mad Ants outscored the Warriors 11-3 to take a 59-51 halftime lead.
Fort Wayne pushed its lead to 72-62 with 4:22 left in the third quarter after back-to-back layups by Howard.
But the Mad Ants were outscored 11-2 to close the quarter and clung to a 74-73 lead entering the fourth. The Warriors' Curry scored 11 in the third after not getting a point in the first half.
The Warriors tied the game at 82 with 7:37 to play, but the Mad Ants responded a 3-pointer from Ramon Harris and and two 3s from Mitchell for a 91-82 lead with 5:37 to play.
Santa Cruz responded with nine straight points to cut Fort Wayne's lead to 91-90 with 1:53 to play. But the Mad Ants outscored the Warriors 11-2 the rest of the way to seal the win.