Elko defense stymies Vaqueros in regional title game
Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
After qualifying for the state tournament the night before, Fernley’s hopes of winning a regional championship crumbled in the grip of some stiff Elko defense Saturday night.
Elko won its sixth consecutive regional championship with a 59-41 win over Fernley at the Winnemucca Events Center.
A Vaqueros team that had made 23 3-pointers in the first two rounds of the tournament made seven in the championship game, but had only four players score.
“We didn’t shoot as well as we have, but they are good defensively,” Fernley coach Derek Miller said. “I thought we played really hard, we just didn’t knock some shots down when we had the chance.”
After his big night in a Northern 3A Regional semifinal game Friday night, it was evident that Elko’s game plan defensively in Saturday’s championship game against Fernley was to not allow Drake Howe room to shoot.
“They were letting me know that, too,” Howe said.
Elko used a 12-2 run over a 5-minute span at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter to turn a 5-point Fernley lead into a 5-point deficit, then broke a close game open in the fourth quarter.
Much of that was because Elko was determined not to give Howe, who made eight 3-pointers in Friday’s semifinal game against South Tahoe, room to even catch the ball. The Indians assigned sophomore Alex Klekas to shadow Howe and deny him the ball, and Howe had to work hard just to catch a pass, much less get a shot off.
Howe did manage to hit one 3-pointer, a leaning, off-balance shot with a defender in his face as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter. That brought the Vaqueros within 40-36 to start the fourth quarter, but the next time Fernley scored, on a 3-pointer by Burns with 4:26 left in the game, Elko had opened a 48-36 lead.
The Vaqueros were without Justin Turner, who rolled his ankle in Friday’s win over South Tahoe and missed most of the second half of that game.
“We missed Justin a lot,” Miller said. “That takes us out of our rotations, and he helps us inside.”
Fernley opened the game strong, taking a 12-7 lead with 2:37 left in the first quarter, after back-to-back 3-pointers by Ren Arroyo and Zach Burns. But Elko hit five quick points, and the teams were tied at 12 going to the second quarter. Elko closed the second quarter with another flurry, turning a 19-17 lead into a 29-21 halftime advantage.
After a basket by Arroyo opened the third quarter, every other Fernley score in the period cut the Elko lead to either 3 or 4, until a quick 8-0 burst to start the fourth quarter put Elko up by double figures.
“We were there, it just got away from us,” Burns said. “We struggled to run some sets.”
Burns led Fernley with 18 points and Arroyo added 13, Howe scored 7 and Ethan Hunter had 3. For Elko, Eric Klekas scored 21 points and Alex Klekas added 19.