TRUCKEE, Calif. – Coming off 12 consecutive wins and a league title, the Truckee girls' promising season screeched to a halt with one quarter-long scoring drought Friday night.
Credit the visiting Fernley Vaqueros, who advanced to the 3A State Championship Tournament with a 57-51 upset win.
“That was a tough one to end on,” said Truckee head coach Geoff Stephens, whose Wolverines finished the year 16-6 overall, including a 10-0 sweep in Mount Rose League play to earn a No. 1 regional seed.
Truckee led early before the Vaqueros (16-9), who were seeded No. 2 from the Lahontan League, clamped down defensively and took control with a 16-0 run during an eight-minute stretch between the first and second quarters.
The Wolverines fought back gamely in the second half, cutting the lead to three points on a couple of occasions in the final minutes, but Fernley converted clutch free throws until the final buzzer to secure the win.
“I thought the whole key for us all night was being able to control the ball and not turn it over, because we turned the ball over a lot against them last time,” said Fernley head coach Ross Wilson, speaking of a 55-46 Truckee win on Jan. 3 in the teams' only other meeting this season.
This time it was the Wolverines who struggled with turnovers.
Using an effective full-court press, Fernley repeatedly forced turnovers that led directly to easy offense, including eight straight points off of steals at one point in the second quarter. The Vaqueros also held a decisive edge in the rebounding department.
“Their pressure was good, but we started playing out of character and panicked a little bit and lost discipline,” Stephens said. “We succumbed to the pressure and didn't pass well – well, we passed it to them well.”
The Wolverines excited their home crowd – a crowd noticeably lacking the punch of a large, vocal student section – with a spirited run at the end.
After matching their largest deficit at 12 points, at 47-35 with 3:55 remaining, Truckee began chipping away at the Fernley lead. Senior center Aleigh Krug started the gradual comeback with a bucket in the paint for two of her team-high 14 points, and junior guard Olivia Duner followed with two free throws to narrow the lead back to single digits.
Truckee was unable to hold the Vaqueros off the scoreboard, however, thanks in large part to the visitors' double-bonus status for most of the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter alone, Fernley's Jordan King connected on nine of 10 free-throw attempts en route to a 15-point effort, while teammate Brooke Mattice made five of her eight free throws en route to a game-high 25 points.
Yet the Wolverines still managed to slowly cut into the Fernley lead.
In between the Vaqueros' many free-throw attempts – they took 33 in the second half to Truckee's nine, making 23 – Truckee senior Krysta Murphy scored on consecutive possessions with two minutes remaining, Krug delivered with a bucket in the post, Sydnie English put back an offensive rebound, and Katey Hamill converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 52-49 with 38 seconds on the clock.
English brought the lead back to three once more with 0:08 on the clock, but the Wolverines got no closer as the Vaqueros iced the game at the line.
“Our three shooters all went cold on the same night, we got outrebounded and they didn't miss a free throw. But it was not for a lack of effort,” Stephens said. “We didn't play our best game and they did play their best game. I wish Fernley luck.”
Wilson acknowledged his team's defensive effort, as well as its game plan to gang up on Krug.
“Our defense was pretty good. We made a concerted effort on Aleigh. We didn't want to let her get 25 points on us,” Wilson said.
Hamill scored nine points for the Wolverines, English and Murphy had eight apiece, and Duner and Sassy Graham had six apiece. Anna Gane scored 10 points for Fernley.
Despite the disappointing loss, Stephens said he was happy with his team's season overall.
“I'm very proud of them,” he said. “I thought we had a great opportunity to win the whole thing. It just didn't work out. Maybe on another night.”