Highlanders fall in league title game, face Needles to open state tourney
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Incline boys’ basketball team’s run for a fourth consecutive Northern League title came up short this weekend after the Highlanders suffered a 53-48 loss in the tournament finals to West Wendover.
The Highlanders entered Saturday’s championship game at Incline High School after dispatching rivals North Tahoe in Friday’s regional semifinals.
Incline won the contest in thrilling fashion, topping the Lakers 37-35 on a game-winning floater with eight seconds remaining.
“We shot the ball the worst we’ve shot it all season,” said Incline Head Coach Tim Kelly. “We still found a way to hold them to 35 points and win the game … they gave us a run.”
Both teams struggled shooting the ball from the outset, and it would be drives to the basket that gave Incline an early 11-8 advantage after the first quarter.
North Tahoe gained their first lead of the night with a little more than a minute left in the half when sophomore guard Levi Boyd knocked down a 3-pointer. Senior Daniel Joslin then drained another shot from downtown as part of a North Tahoe 10-0 run to end the quarter, giving the Lakers a 22-16 lead going into halftime.
“We always talk about the most important time of the basketball game is the first four minutes of the half,” said Kelly on his message to the team at halftime. “So we said, ‘Just win the first four minutes.’”
North Tahoe senior Jared Hunt looked to silence that message by opening the third quarter with a 3-pointer, giving the Lakers a nine-point lead. Incline, however, would begin chipping away as North Tahoe missed a number of shots at the rim. A pair of 3-pointers and stingy defense by the Highlanders eventually led to a one-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.
A little more than a minute into the quarter, Incline took the lead for the first time since late in first half, gaining a 32-30 advantage on a pair of free throws by senior James Demarais. North Tahoe’s Boyd, who led the team with 11 points, put the Lakers back up 35-32 with a 3-pointer. Incline then pulled even with two minutes left in the game, tying the game at 35-35 on a free throw by senior Luc Casini.
With the a little more than a minute remaining and the game tied, the Lakers took possession of the ball, but turned it over after the Highlanders forced a jump ball.
Coming out of a timeout, Kelly said he drew up a play for Casini, but “It didn’t work. We got kind of jumbled up.”
A couple passes later the Highlanders got a decent look off a drive to the basket but the attempt was too strong and off the backboard. The ball would be tipped out and find the hands of Demarais, who rattled in a game-winning floater with 8 seconds left.
“It was just a wild play,” said Demarais. “It came off the rim and fell in my hands and I just hit a floater. Honestly, I thought it was a little short but it went in and that was the story, that was game.”
The Lakers would have a final possession and managed to get the ball up the court for a contested 3-pointer from the corner, but the shot just missed the mark.
“We got the win,” said Demarais, who finished the game with 10 points. “We’re going to Vegas baby.”
Incline’s leading scorer, Casini, finished the game with 12 points. The senior missed the entire regular season with a broken hand and returned to the team in time for a postseason run.
“It means so much,” said Casini on the win. “I’m so proud of my boys. James Demarais hit that game-winning shot. That means everything to me.”
Sophomore Tommy Williams, the team’s leading scorer at 22 points per game and league MVP, battled through illness to play, according to Kelly. Williams finished the game with six points. Senior Marcos Resendiz scored four points, senior Sam Hillman scored three points, and junior Bradley Bodel added two points.
The Highlander then faced West Wendover on Saturday to decide the league championship.
Incline jumped out to an early lead but the Wolverines answered with an 11-0 run to hold an 11-7 lead after the first quarter.
The Highlanders would go on a run of their own, tying the game at 16-16 on a 3-pointer by Casini on the way to closing the half with a 20-18 lead.
Incline came out hot in the third quarter, knocking down five 3-pointers including back-to-back triples by Demarais to give the team a 13-point edge. West Wendover would fight back to cut the lead to 39-31 going into the fourth quarter.
After cutting the lead to a basket, West Wendover went on an 11-2 run to take a 50-43 lead with 1:20 left in the game. The Highlanders would cut it to four points late, but that would be as close as they’d get as West Wendover held on for a 53-48 win.
Williams led Incline with 20 points. Demarais scored nine points, Casini scored eight points, Resendiz and Bodel each scored four points, and Hillman added three points.
Incline will now enter the Class 2A State Boys Basketball Playoffs in Las Vegas as the Northern League’s No. 2 seed. The Highlanders will face Southern League champions The Meadows on Friday at 2 p.m. at Cox Pavilion. The Meadows finished the season with a 23-4 record and were 15-1 in Southern League play.
The programs have faced each other in each of the last three 2A state tournaments. The Meadows topped Incline last season in the state title game. Incline knocked The Meadows out of the state tournament in 2020 semifinals, and topped the Mustangs in the state title game in 2019.
The winner will advance to the state title game on Saturday at 11:50 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tribune.
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