Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
A 13-0 run had brought the Fernley High School girls basketball to within a point in the fourth quarter of their Northern 3A semifinal game against Spring creek last Friday afternoon. After three quarters of struggling to put the ball into the basket, the Vaqueros had suddenly found their offense, and with 3:50 left in the game, had momentum on their side.
But just as suddenly, the offense dried up, and the Vaqueros’ hopes of a second straight comeback win and a trip to the State Tournament evaporated with it.
Spring Creek hit seven free throws in the final 2:38 of the game to hold off the Vaqueros and end their season, 46-40, while the Spartans advanced to Saturday’s regional championship and this week’s state tournament in Las Vegas.
It was the third time this season the Vaqueros and Spartans played a game that went down to the final minute, and though the loss was heartbreaking, coach Tom Kingston said there was nothing to be disappointed about.
“I’m not disappointed at all how well they did,” Kingston said. “They did a lot of positive things and even though we’re disappointed in losing or failures throughout the season, there are a lot of good things to learn from and move on for the coming years.”
Spring Creek came out of the first half with a 25-21 lead, and promptly went on a 14-4 run to go up 39-25. But just when it seemed their season was on the brink, the Vaqueros recovered. Lashay Stevens made two free throws, then Aly Sullivan hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter with the score 39-30.
Having struggled to shoot from outside, the Vaqueros instead began attacking the basket. Nadia Velazquez was rewarded with two free throws, and Jaelese Wasson drove for a layup, and it was 39-34. Velazquez then twice hit 1-of-2 free throws, and with the score 39-36, Tia Otuafi hit a step-back jumper to cut the lead to 39-38.
But Fernley didn’t score again until a layup by Wasson at the game’s final buzzer.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Kingston said. “We definitely had our opportunities after that. The ball didn’t keep falling after that like it was.”
Wasson led the Vaqueros with 19 points, while Velazquez added 7 and Otuafi scored 6.
The day before, the Vaqueros had staged a similar rally, and that time they came out on top in a 41-39 win over South Tahoe.
A second-quarter drought allowed South Tahoe to pull into a 25-15 halftime lead, but the Vaqueros stormed out of the locker room with a 12-2 lead to tie the game at 27. It went back and forth from there.
With the game tied at 39, the Vaqueros had the ball and a chance to play for the last shot with 24 seconds left, but South Tahoe forced a jump ball with 16.5 seconds left, and had the possession arrow, so they were awarded the ball in their own backcourt. However, the Vikings were called for stepping out of bounds on the inbounds pass, giving it back to the Vaqueros. Jennica Stephens found a cutting Otuafi, whose shot went in with 7 seconds left. A last second South Tahoe shot wouldn’t go.
“Tia made a really nice shot,” Kingston said.
Otuafi had 16 points to lead the Vaqueros, with 14 from Wasson.
Kingston credited the Vaqueros defense for keeping them in both games when the offense went cold.
“That’s been our defense, the best part of what we’ve done all year,” he said. “It always kept pressure up and made it up for our offense.”
With a mostly young roster of players who take basketball seriously, Kingston said the Vaqueros have a lot to look forward to, and shouldn’t be disappointed when they look back. He said they received several compliments all season long from opposing coaches.
“I’m extremely proud of these girls and the effort and work they put in,” he said. “We have girls that put in hard work and have passion for the game.”