Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Several things still remain on the list of goals the Fernley High School boys basketball team set for this season, but as they accomplish them one by one, the Vaqueros checked another item off the list last Friday as they finished crossover play against the 3A West with an undefeated 6-0 record.
The Vaqueros came back from a 16-point second-quarter deficit to beat North Valleys 69-53 last Friday, a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed in the first half, and totally dominant in the second half. After seeing North Valleys put up 41 points in the first half, the Vaqueros held the Panthers to just 12 in the second half.
The Vaqueros had trouble getting a flow offensively, and stops defensively, as they fell behind by as much as 35-19 in the first half.
Coach Cade Knutson said the Panthers caught the Vaqueros off guard, despite playing without their leading scorer, guard Elijah Blythe, who averages 19.2 points per game. Without Blythe, the Panthers spread the floor and hit five 3-point shots in the first half, plus another long jumper where the shooters toes were ruled to be on the line.
“They came out straight man, we were expecting 1-2-2, we prepared as if #3, Elijah Blythe, was going to play, and he’s a ball dominant player so a lot of our preparation had to do with what we were going to do with him,” Knutson said. “They came out and played incredibly well.”
Conversely, Knutson said the Vaqueros didn’t have good energy defensively on their closeouts and rotations.
“It was really a poor first half of basketball defensively for us,” he said.
It was also, however, a chance for the Vaqueros to find out if they could handle a deficit against a team that was rolling.
“We told the guys at halftime, if we’re going get where we want to go, we’re not going to be up at half every single game,” he said.
Trailing 41-30 at the half, the Vaqueros erased the lead in less than a quarter, going ahead 51-49 on two free throws by Jett Caudle with 53.3 seconds left in the third quarter. By the time North Valleys scored again, a 12-0 Fernley run, part of a larger 26-8 run, had the Vaqueros up 56-49.
Knutson said the difference was playing with more energy, and that as the Vaqueros played better offensively it led to better effort defensively.
“We said we’re straight man, the ball needs to stay in front of you, we’re forcing guys where we tell them we’re supposed to force them,” Knutson said. “I thought all those things were much better in the second half.”
Caudle led Fernley with 27 points, while Johnnie Williams added 13 and Bryce Stephens scored 10.
Two days prior, the Vaqueros had finished the first half of league play with a 70-43 win over Dayton. The Vaqueros controlled that one throughout, led by 21 points by Caudle and 15 by Winters.
Now the Vaqueros start the second half of league play in first place with a 5-0 record, but they face a stiff challenge right away, hosting Spring Creek Friday and Elko Saturday.
With a week off to prepare, Knutson said the Vaqueros have a handful of specific things they want to improve this week.
“Our blocking out and rebounding has taken a significant step back, and we’re adding little wrinkles here and there so we’re not easy to scout,” he said.