Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
This season brought a series of frustrating losses for the Fernley High School girls basketball team. Their chances at earning a trip to Las Vegas for the State Tournament depend on breaking through at least twice to beat teams they’ve come tantalizingly close to.
The Vaqueros enter this week’s 3A Northern League Tournament as the No. 5 seed, and will open the tournament at 6:20 p.m. Thursday against Truckee.
The Vaqueros finished 10-8 in league play, but were 10-0 against the five teams that finished below them and 0-8 against the four teams above them in the standings.
That includes 5- and 4-point losses to Truckee, each in games they led late with chances to win.
That was a theme of the season for the Vaqueros, who lost by 7 and by 3 to Spring Creek, by 9 and by 5 to Lowry, and by 12 at Fallon in another game they led in the second half.
Until last Saturday’s 48-30 loss to Fallon, the Vaqueros hadn’t been blown out in league play, and had led in the second half against every league foe, before faltering.
“There’s always that four-minute stretch in every single game that we just get off the same page,” coach John Rogers said. “It’s the same thing every single game against these top teams. I can’t figure out what we need to do, because I can’t pinpoint it.”
The latest of those four-minute stretches came Friday against Lowry, when a 36-31 lead turned into a 52-45 deficit in a game Lowry won, 65-60.
“I told them you played 28 minutes together, then four minutes by ourselves, both on the offensive side and the defensive side,” and then got back together at the end and made a run late,” Rogers said.
The Vaqueros led most of the first two and a half quarters of a game that was played at a fast, aggressive pace by both teams.
Fernley scored second straight points in a minute to take a 10-8 lead with 5:08 left in the first quarter. The teams traded the lead the rest of the first half, but the Vaqueros answered every Lowry parry, leadig by four twice in the second quarter and by three on three other occasions, before taking a 33-29 lead to the break.
A free throw by Karli Burns pushed the lead to 36-31 with 4:54 left in the third quarter, but Lowry outscored the Vaqueros 19-9 over the final 4:40 of the third quarter.
The Buckaroos stretched the margin to 59-48 with 6:34 left in the game.
Consecutive fast break baskets by Katelyn Bunyard pulled the Vaqueros within 63-58 with 1:09 to play, and Lowry left the door open by missing four straight free throws, but the Vaqueros came up empty on two chances to get within one possession.
“We’ve been right there will all the top teams, it just hasn’t been our time, our turn,” Rogers said.
Celeste Condie led the Vaqueros with 17 points, while Jaiden Sullivan added 15 and Bunyard finished with 13.
Hoping to build some confidence and momentum in Saturday’s regular season finale against Fallon, the Vaqueros instead got buried by an avalanche of turnovers.
At halftime the Vaqueros had more turnovers that shot attempts, but still trailed just 27-16.
“My message at halftime was you’re playing horrible and you’re still not out of the game,” Rogers said. “I guess it didn’t resonate with them very well, because we didn’t clean it up at all in the second half.”
Fallon scored the last nine points of the third quarter to turn the game into a blowout.
The Vaqueros finished the game making just 11 of 34 shot attempts, with 32 turnovers.
“We played like the beginning of the year team on the last game of the season,” Rogers said. “We play like that against the best team in the league, you’re going to get whooped by whatever it was there at the end.”
No Fernley player reached double figures in scoring, with Brittney Gaitan leading the team with 8 points, followed by Sullivan with 7.
Despite that loss, Rogers remains confident the Vaqueros can beat the four teams seeded above them in the tournament. If they beat Truckee Thursday, the Vaqueros would get another shot at Fallon Friday at 6:20 p.m.
“I feel like the top five teams in the league can all beat each other,” Rogers said. “I know Fallon hasn’t been beaten, but I think they’re beatable, and I think anybody can beat anybody on a given night, whoever can finish the best. We just haven’t finished the best.”
First, though, the Vaqueros have to deal with Truckee, who handed them a pair of late defeats.
“Truckee’s just athletic and fast, so we have to be able to keep them outside as best we can and know where their shooters are,” Rogers said. “And then Fallon is what it is. They’ve got inside game, they’ve got outside game, they do it all. We’ve just got to try to figure out the system that we feel is going to be most effective against them and execute it, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”