Fernley boys win regional title

Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter

As Friday night’s state semifinal game between the Hug and Elko boys wound down, Fernley players and coaches waiting to see who they would face on Saturday were discussing how it would be facing that atmosphere in the championship game with the raucous Elko fan base.

But with a dominating performance Saturday, the Vaqueros never let the fans become a factor, and rolled to a 59-48 win over the Indians that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicates.

Fernley led 48-24 through three quarters, after holding Elko to just 10 points in the first half.


With the win, the Vaqueros won their first regional championship since Ross Wilson’s teams won back-to-back regional titles in 1995 and 1996.

“It’s not even just that. It feels good because they beat us last year in the regional championship game,” said senior Anthony Winters. “It feels so much better to come out here and win it, especially in their own gym, everyone watching and everyone can witness why we’re the best team in the North.”

Winters kept a running dialogue throughout the game with just about everyone on the floor and with a few fans.

“I like being the person they don’t like on the court and I like giving my team energy,” he said. “If I’m the person that’s yelling and screaming after every possession it gives my team energy. I like to get my team involved, I like to get assists, I like to get rebounds and I just like to give my team energy because when we have energy its hard to beat us.”

Winters normally keys the Vaqueros’ defense with pressure on the ball, but against Elko, coach Cade Knutson and his staff switched things up, focusing on surrounding Elko’s Preston Chamberlin.

“We tried to front every single time Chamberlin was in the post,” Knutson said. “I thought Garrett Harjo was phenomenal at it. He got in front and then we had a weakside tag we call it, which is a defender that if they throw it over the top, we have somebody there to pick that pass off, and our guys were flawless at it.”

The defense was stifling from the outset. The Vaqueros didn’t allow the Indians to score a field goal until a tip-in by Chamberlin just before the buzzer to end the quarter. By then, the Vaqueros had built a 15-4 lead.

“Chamberlin’s a dog, but we were told to front him and everything runs through him,” senior Garrett Harjo said. “We shut him down and no one else could score.”

Elko scored the first two baskets of the second quarter, but just as its crowd began to get engaged, the Vaqueros responded with an 11-0 run to end the first half with a 26-10 lead. The run extended to 19-0 with the first eight points of the second half, putting Fernley up 34-10 and firmly in control.

“That hot start was a key to the game,” Knutson said. “Having that lead going into the fourth quarter was a huge deal.”

Trailing 48-24, Elko made its run in the fourth quarter, outscoring Fernley 14-4 to open the fourth quarter, but Fernley made 12 of 16 free throws to ice the game.

Many of the Fernley players have played together most of their lives and they’ve grown accustomed to winning together. But Harjo said Saturday’s win was the biggest moment of his basketball life.

“Oh, the top, for me, without a doubt,” he said. “This is going to last a lifetime.”

The Vaqueros reached the championship game with a 74-55 win over Spring Creek Friday night, finishing the game with a 12-0 run to seal what had been a much closer game.

Johnnie Williams dictated the flow of the game, finishing with a team-high 23 points, but the Vaqueros got important contributions from everyone. When Winters went to the bench after picking up two quick fouls late in the first quarter, sophomore Nolan Berreman, helping the Vaqueros turn a 10-8 lead into a 25-15 advantage.

Spring Creek clawed back within 27-22, but Sheldon Jacobson converted a steal into a layup that started an 8-3 burst that allowed Fernley to go to the half with a 35-25 lead.

After Spring Creek again climbed within six in the third quarter, Williams had nine points in an 11-4 spurt to push the lead back to 47-33. Then when Spring Creek pulled within 62-55 with 2:33 left in the game, the Vaqueros put it away with that 12-0 run, including 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

Now they take on Democracy Prep in the state semifinals, Wednesday at 10:40 a.m. at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. Democracy Prep won last year’s 2A state title, before moving up to 3A this season. The Blue Knights are 17-7 overall. They finished second in the Southern 3A Desert League behind Mater East, then lost to Mater East 60-59 in the regional final last Friday night. Mater East will play Elko in the other semifinal.

“Democracy Prep is a really athletic group of kids, is playing really well right now,” Knutson said. “There’s no doubt that we have our hands full. They’re an entirely different team than anybody we play up here in the North.”

But, said Harjo, after getting their revenge over Elko from last year’s regional championship loss, the Vaqueros are ready to take the next step and finish what they were unable to last season.

“This year we’re here, we’re faster, we’re better, we’re ready to play,” Harjo said.

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