Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
After having their 12-game winning streak ended in emphatic fashion by Elko in last Saturday’s 3A North Region championship game, the Fernley High School boys basketball team will be looking to get back to that form when they face Somerset Academy Losee in a 3A state semifinal game Friday night at Lawlor Events Center.
After rolling through league play undefeated, and beating Lowry 67-53 in a regional semifinal Friday night, the Vaqueros were beaten 65-30 in the region championship by Elko. The game was Elko’s 12th consecutive appearance in the regional title game, and the 11th time they’ve won the championship in that stretch.
“They played a really good game, we played a poor game, and that’s how you end up with such a blowout,” Fernley coach Cade Knutson said. “They played really comfortably, and we did not.”
The Vaqueros never led in the game against Elko, and outside of a strong start to the second quarter, where they cut a 10-point deficit to four, also never got into a rhythm offensively. Elko, meanwhile, came out on fire and stayed that way the whole game. The Indians hits 12 3-pointes against the Vaqueros, after not having that many combined in their first two games of the tournament, in which they scored just 35 points against Spring Creek and 50 in a semifinal win over South Tahoe.
Knutson said the Vaqueros’ game plan was actually to force Elko to shoot from the outside and not let Elko’s interior threat, junior Preston Chamberlain, beat them inside.
“The last two teams they played leading up to this game zoned them for the purpose they wanted them to prove they could make shots from the outside,” Knutson said. “Our approach was more a man-to-man approach and sagging off guys that we thought were going to struggle shooting.”
Elko senior Chris Amaya got the barrage started with consecutive 3-pointers in the first quarter, helping Elko to a 14-4 lead. After Fernley got back within 19-15, Luis Rodriguez and Amaya each hit threes as Elko extended back to a 31-18 halftime lead.
Then the Indians really got hot. They hit five threes in the third quarter alone, blistering the nets for 23 points, while the Vaqueros were looking flustered, unable to convert on their own offensive end, which in turn kept them from being able to apply their trademark pressure defense.
“We tend to feed off when we’re able to turn people over in our fullcourt pressure and we never did,” Knutson said. “You don’t score 30 points in 32 minutes because you’re in a good offensive rhythm.”
Conversely, in Friday’s semifinal win over Lowry, the Vaqueros were a turnover forcing machine, which allowed them to get out on the break or get into quick early actions in halfcourt sets. The Vaqueros scored 25 points in the first quarter alone, and 21 more in the second, doubling up the Buckaroos 46-23.
“Our kids played with a ton of energy and had a great rhythm and flow to the game versus Lowry’s zone,” Knutson said. “I thought the ball zipped around really quickly, I thought we were unselfish, I thought we passed up decent shots for great shots. We had a heck of an offensive rhythm.”
Jett Caudle scored 15 points in the first half for the Vaqueros and finished with 19, while the rest of the effort was balanced. Johnnie Williams scored 10, Sheldon Jacobson and Jake Cumming had nine each, Anthony Winters added eight and Bryce Stephens chipped in with seven.
This week, the Vaqueros hope to look more like the squad that beat Lowry and ran roughshod through the Northern 3A, than the one that struggled against Elko.. While the program has made periodic appearances at the state tournament, this is the first time they’ve gone in back-to-back seasons since 2000, which was the fifth year in a row the team made it to State.
“We’re hoping to build that culture that’s used to being in these games and used to going to state,” Knutson said. “When you go sporadically you just feel lucky to be there, and when it’s something when you’re knocking on the door for a few years in a row, then I think you play with a different level of confidence and you learn from what you didn’t do well the first time.”
Caudle and Cumming are the only two starters on this year’s team from last year’s state semifinal game. Knutson said it’s up to them to lead the way.
“I’m hopeful that they can really lead our younger group that wasn’t there,” he said. “Hopefully that brings some confidence and leadership into what’s going to be a really fun week.”