Open State tournament Friday vs. Pahrump
Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
It’s two down and one to go for the Fernley High School girls basketball team.
The Vaqueros accomplished their second major goal of the season last Saturday, defeating Lowry 57-39 in the championship game of the 3A North Region Tournament. The Vaqueros have now won the Northern 3A East League and North Region championships. Next on the list is the 3A state championship.
The Vaqueros will face Pahrump at 3:20 Friday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno in the state semifinals as the No. 1 seed from the North. Lowry will be the No. 2 Northern seed and face Moapa Valley. The two winners will meet for the championship Saturday at 2 p.m.
“I feel like we’ll win State,” sophomore Jaelece Wasson said. “Just keep focusing, just keep doing what we do.”
What the Vaqueros do was enough to carry them through the league season unbeaten, both in the East, and in crossovers against the West. It also carried them past their two top contenders last weekend.
“It just feels amazing,” Wasson said. “Like, we didn’t feel it last year, so this year feels way better.”
It was Wasson who shouldered the load offensively for the Vaqueros in Friday’s regional semifinal against Elko. The Vaqueros never got their offense rolling, but won 45-32 because of stifling pressure defense that never led Elko get comfortable on offense.
“We came out rusty for practicing for nine days and not having any games other than Dayton,” coach Ralph Dunn said. “Elko came out ready to play but the girls kept their composure and weathered the storm.”
Elko led most of the first half, and held an 18-13 lead with 1:30 left in the first half. But the Vaqueros scored eight quick points in the final 1:02 of the half to take a 21-18 halftime lead.
The game was tied at 26 when the Vaqueros went on an 11-0 run over the last 4:30 of the third quarter and first 1:49 of the fourth, to go ahead 37-26 with 6:11 left in the game. The closest Elko got after that was 37-32, but Jasmyne Torres hit six straight free throws in the final 1:42 to put the game away.
“WE put together some runs and let them dribble to the corner and trapped them,” Dunn said.
Both of their big runs were ignited by 3-pointers by Wasson, who made five 3-pointers in the game and had 21 points for the game. Wasson said she sensed the Vaqueros were struggling, and said that’s when she knows to try to take over offensively.
“Like my energy is bringing everyone else up,” she said.
In Saturday’s championship game, with the weight of qualifying for State already off their shoulders, the Vaqueros played much more freely on offense, and they used an unorthodox defense to stymie Lowry’s top threat, Savannah Stoker, who led the league in scoring this season. The Vaqueros played a box-and-one defense, but with the one guarding not Stoker, but point guard Britain Backus. Dunn said the idea was to put pressure on Britain, Lowry’s main ballhandler, and not allow her to have an open passing lane, while the other four players played a zone in the lane and collapsed to double team Stoker whenever she caught the ball.
As a result, Stoker, who averages 24.1 points per game and scored 42 two weeks prior against the Vaqueros, scored only nine points Saturday and made just 3 of 12 field goal attempts.
“We knew we had to keep their two scorers in check and not let them have too many touches, and the girls did just do that,” Dunn said.
Meanwhile, the Vaqueros got out on the break early and were effective both from the post and in their early offense in halfcourt sets.
Trailing 6-3, they scored nine straight points, then in the second quarter, they had a 10-1 spurt to go up 24-10. Lowry closed the half with a flurry of their own, getting within 28-24, but the Vaqueros reasserted control of the game with the first 12 points of the third quarter and Lowry never again got closer than 14.
Wasson again led the Vaqueros with 20 points, while Torres added 14, Taylor Tollestrup scored 10 and Tia Otuafi added 9.
Now the Vaqueros move on to their third goal, but Dunn said as the stakes get higher, so does the task get more difficult.
“All I ask is the girls to play their best and give their all,” he said. “We’re still on this journey together and the end of the journey is near. The journey has been a great ride.”
Dunn said he isn’t sure what to expect from Pahrump, but he said the Vaqueros just need to continue to be ready to do what they do.
“We will get the girls ready for what we do and for them to give it there all,” he said. ‘I expect a large following which will give the girls energy.”