Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
When the 3-point shot from Somerset Losee’s KeSean White bounced off the backboard and through the net as time expired in the 3A state semifinal game, it put an end to Fernley’s quest to win its first state championship in boys basketball since the Vaqueros won consecutive titles in 1957 and ’58.
But while they didn’t bring home the trophy this season, by making their second consecutive trip to the State Tournament and with several players who will be returning next season, the Vaqueros have at the least put themselves among the list of teams who should be considered contenders to win it next season. And, if the trajectory of the program is any indication, for possibly longer than that.
The Vaqueros lost the state semifinal game 50-49 to Somerset Losee, when White banked in a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer. Fernley had taken a 49-47 lead on a 3-pointer by Johnnie Williams with 14 seconds left.
Losee hurried the ball down the floor and passed the ball to Kieran Daniel, who was cutting toward the basket from the left wing. Daniel mishandled the ball, but picked it up with three seconds left in the game. He passed it to Antwan Jones, who was at the 3-point line just to the left of the top of the key. Jones immediately passed it to his right to White, who hesitated for a split second as a defender flew by, then heaved the ball toward the basket. The buzzer sounded and the red lights around the edge of the backboard lit up as the ball was in flight. Though the shot by White was too long, it was right on line, and it hit in the square of the backboard and fell through the net.
Losee players immediately ran to the other end of the floor in front of the Fernley bench to celebrate, while Fernley players stood frozen in shock.
It was an unlikely ending to a game the Vaqueros controlled most of the way.
They led 12-2 in the first 3:16 of the game and by as much as 13, at 18-5, with 2:11 left in the first quarter.
Losee edged within six twice in the second quarter, but Williams, who hit five 3-pointers in the game and finished with 21 points, hit a triple with 37 seconds left before the half to send Fernley to the locker room up 28-19.
Again Williams stymied a Losee run with a 3-pointer, with 2:18 left in the third quarter after the Lions had crept within 31-27, and Fernley went to the fourth quarter with a 37-30 lead.
But in the fourth quarter, Losee went to a trapping halfcourt defense, with two defenders at halfcourt and two others lined up a few feet behind them, ready to trap on either side of the center circle. Losee went on a 10-2 run to start the furth quarter and took its first lead of the game at 40-39 with 5:08 left in the game.
Williams tipped in a Fernley miss to regain the lead at 41-40, then answered another Losee basket with a 3-pointerfor a 44-42 lead with 3:05 left in the game. Seconds later, Anthony Winters converted a steal into a fast break layup for a 46-42 lead.
Five straight Losee points put the Vaqueros down 47-46, before Williams hit the go-ahead 3-pointer and White answered with the game winner.
It was the second straight year the Vaqueros have lost in the state semifinals, which was also the first time the Vaqueros have reached the state tournament in consecutive seasons since 2000, which was the fifth consecutive trip.
“Really proud of our guys for the great season they had,” coach Cade Knutson said. “I thought our guys grew a lot throughout the season and responded to adversity throughout.
The Vaqueros went undefeated in the Northern 3A in the regular season, both in the East League and in crossover games against the West.
“Going undefeated in league wasn’t necessarily a goal of ours at the start of the season,” Knutson said. “We talked a lot about defending home court which we did with a perfect home record. Going undefeated on the road in league was a bonus and is really hard to do in this league.”
Knutson was in his first season as head coach, having been an assistant in the program under coach Derek Miller the last few seasons. When Miller stepped down after last season, he said he was happy with the shape he was leaving the program in.
“It was an honor to coach this group,” Knutson said. “As a first-year guy to get this much talent is a blessing. Extremely coachable group and some of the most competitive kids you will find.”
The Vaqueros will be losing six seniors, but return four players who earned All-League honors, two of whom were freshmen this season.
“It’s a really unique opportunity we have to help shape young men and watch them grow on and off the court,” he said. “I’m excited with the position our program is in and the amount of youth and talent we have coming up. It’s going to be a fun ride the next few years.”
We have some really talented players which was evident after the all-league/all-state voting Unbelievably proud of our seniors, some of which have been in our program for 4 years. It’s a really unique opportunity we have to help shape young men and watch them grow on and off the court. I’m excited with the position our program is in and the amount of youth and talent (2 freshman who were honored in the all league voting Bryce 2nd team Sheldon Honorable mention) we have coming up. As well as returning 3 will be seniors in 1st team all north Johnnie Williams who we will look to to lead us next season. As well as Anthony Winters (2nd team all east) and Garrett Harjo honorable mention.