Perfection! Clutch free throws, block lifts Incline girls to back-to-back state titles

The Incline Village girls’ basketball team celebrates after winning the state title on Saturday in Reno.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

RENO, Nev. — Eiley Tippins stood on the free throw line with 22 seconds left in a raucous Lawlor Events Center. The Incline Village senior was fouled after being triple-teamed in the post and earned two shots with the Highlanders down by a point in the state 2A championship game.

The Lincoln County fan base was screaming and stomping, doing anything they could to distract Tippins who calmly stepped to the free throw line with her game face on.

Tippins had missed her last two free throw attempts and was 3 for 6 for the game.

“She missed a couple earlier in the game so I was a little worried, and she was tired,” said Incline Head Coach Indra Winquest. “She was battling hard down there in the post.”

“I was scared just because of the nerves,” said Incline senior Elisabeth Stranzl.

Tippins nailed the first one, barely hitting the rim. And she completely swished the second freebie giving Incline a 31-30 lead.

With 22 seconds left, the Highlanders still needed to play defense.

Lincoln County passed the ball around the perimeter and eventually got it to their star Ashley Matthews, who had hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to give the Lynx their second 1-point lead (30-29) of the game.

Matthews dribbled around a screen and took a shot just above the free throw line. But the ball never made it out of her hands.

Incline 6-foot-2 senior Brooke Gutheil used her long arms and blocked the shot. Gutheil then recovered the loose ball and quickly passed to Stranzl who smiled and pumped her first as Winquest called timeout with less than a second on the clock.

“I’ve blocked pretty well all season but today I made sure not to get into foul trouble so I was a bit more hesitant,” Gutheil said. “But when I saw that ball go up, I thought ‘this is my time to go for it’ and I got it.”

Incline then made a successful inbounds pass and the celebration was on.

“I’m so proud of them, they battled through some adversity in the game and we made the plays we needed to win,” said Winquest. “Lincoln County played us tough. The free throws and that big block was the sequence that really got us that game I think.”

“I’ve been in tense situations, but making those free throws had to be the best thing I could have done for this team this whole season,” said Tippins who dominated inside with 14 rebounds and five blocks to go with her team-high 15 points. “And Brooke’s block was key. If she didn’t get that, they could have gotten right by us if they hit that basket.”

With the victory, Incline earned back-to-back state championships, a first in school history, and have won 41 straight games dating back to January 2020. It’s the second longest win streak for a 2A team in Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association history.

“We didn’t get to play last year and we knew we had the best team in the state,” said Winquest who received a tearful hug postgame from one of his daughters. “That doesn’t mean we were going to win, but we knew that and we thought we’d have a chance to win three straight but that couldn’t happen due to the pandemic. We used that as fuel this year. These girls would not have been happy or satisfied had they lost this game.

“We had one goal,” Winquest continued. “We looked at Feb. 26 and it was our goal to be here on this date. We knew we wanted to be here on this stage. I can’t say enough about Lincoln County, but I feel we were the best team in the state.”

Incline scored just four points in the fourth period and needed every single one of them. The Highlanders went 7 minutes without scoring a point, and neither team scored in the first 5 minutes of the quarter.

Incline’s first, much needed, two points came on an aggressive drive to the basket from Gutheil.

The guard was dribbling near the top of the key when she saw an opening.

With her left hand, she quickly drove past her defender and within a couple of strides was laying it off the glass for a 29-27 lead.

“Normally I like to shoot, but they weren’t going in in the second half,” Gutheil said. “So I saw the lane and I told myself that I’m going for it. After I missed my last 3-pointer that was my next move. I was so thankful I made it.”

“That drive was insane,” said Stranzl who dished a game-high eight assists. “Nobody can guard her, she’s a 6-2 guard.”

“During a timeout we talked about, when you see a gap, you need to hit it,” Winquest said. “She hadn’t been attacking the entire game but she saw that gap and decided to go and made a helluva play.”

Incline led through most of the first half. They led 10-6 after the opening quarter and tied the game at 15 at halftime on a Mattison Lampe layup with 2 seconds left. It was Incline’s only field goal of the second period with their other three points coming on free throws.

“We were really tense most of the game,” Gutheil said. “We were not in a good flow. I kept telling the girls, ‘everything is going to be fine.’ And I think once we finally got out of our own heads at the end, our mindset was that we were not going to lose this game.”

Incline stretched its lead to 26-21 late in the third period but Lincoln County kept coming back and eventually erased the lead in the fourth quarter setting up drama at the end of the game.

“We couldn’t play last season, and coming back this season we had really good chemistry, everybody likes each other. To come back this year and win it, even though it was such an intense, close game, it was fun. I’m glad that we pulled out a win.”

Having my wife, my kids and the whole community here, it was a beautiful thing,” Winquest said. “After two years of utter chaos for the world, our community just embraces these boys and girls teams and our girls went out and got a win for the community. This is the best girls team in Incline history I think.”

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