Champs! Incline smashes Yerington to claim league hoops title
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Highlanders were all smiles Tuesday night following a regular season-ending beatdown of rival Yerington.
Players hugged and posed for photos with teammates and their families. For the seniors, it was their last time playing on their home floor and they went out with a bang.
They were all celebrating Incline High School’s first boys’ basketball league championship in seven years.
“It felt great to beat Yerington,” said Incline senior co-captain Liam Nolan-Bowers. “Beating a league rival in my last ever game at Incline High School was the best way to go out. Also adding the league championship was good but at this point we are in the final eight and that was the goal, so now we need to work hard this next week and get our bodies ready and make this push to state. My motto right now is to survive and advance because that’s what we have to do.”
“The team has worked so hard this year to try and win the league title, so it feels amazing to be rewarded,” said fellow senior co-captain Ian Smith who remembers the lean times during his past few varsity seasons. “It definitely feels more special after not doing too well these past few years. This team always works hard, so when it finally pays off, and we are able to win a lot of games, it feels so great.”
Avalanche warnings have been prevalent at Lake Tahoe the past couple of weeks and the Highlanders provided a landslide that swept up Yerington.
It was senior night and Incline head coach Tim Kelly started five of his 10 seniors. One of those seniors, who typically doesn’t make much noise, got the Highlanders rolling.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better win to end the regular season,” Kelly said. “Every senior got to play and Bennett Welco, a senior who you don’t hear too much about, started and scored the first two points of the game and that started the whole night. We didn’t play that well, but we took care of business. We all celebrated together, we’ve always been one gigantic family. We’ve all been together for so long, last night was a celebration of the amazing community Incline Village is. The class of 2019 is very special.”
The Highlanders were ahead of the Lions 10-6 after the first period and 21-10 at halftime before running away and hiding in the third quarter.
The Highlanders went on a 31-18 run to put the game away heading into the final eight minutes.
Incline (21-6, 15-1 Northern League) won its final 10 games to forge a co-championship with West Wendover (21-4, 15-1 Northern).
The Highlanders will be the No. 2 seed next week for the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Class 2A Northern League Basketball Championships.
West Wendover earned the top seed due to point differential.
The Wolverines defeated the Highlanders by six points (56-50) in their first meeting in eastern Nevada while Incline prevailed by three points (65-62) in their second meeting on the North Shore three weeks apart.
Incline is made up of 10 seniors (Smith, Nolan-Bowers, Johnny Redfern, Welco, Cooper Lyons, Jacob Leoncio, Jackson Littleton, Paul Larson, Parker Fontecchio and Matthew Cornell), three juniors (Tyler Knight, Brayden Hock and Emerson Fleming), one sophomore (Brad Rye) and two freshmen (TT Valosek and Brody Thralls).
The Highlanders earned a first-round bye in the league tournament that begins Thursday, Feb. 21, at Sparks High School.
The Highlanders first game will be in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday against the winner between Yerington (12-4 Northern) and North Tahoe (6-9 Northern), Battle Mountain (6-10 Northern) or White Pine (6-10 Northern).
The key for Incline is its defense.
The Highlanders hang their hat on their defense and have allowed an average of 36 points per contest in 16 league games. Incline has allowed nearly 100 points less than the next best defensive team in the league, West Wendover (576-667).
“To advance, simply put, lock-down defense,” Nolan-Bowers said. “Our season has been based off of defense and every game we try to hold teams to 32 points or a single point a minute and once we do that our offense comes and we’re successful.”
“The team is very excited and happy with what we have accomplished thus far, but we know that the job is not done yet,” Smith said. “We are extremely focused and know that we have to work hard to win in the playoffs. Our goal is to reach state and win, and we will give our everything to obtain that goal.”
Aside from defense, Kelly says they also need to keep rebounding in the form that they have all season.
“The biggest thing has to stay the same, we can’t let people score and not letting them get what they want,” Kelly said. “The way we’ll win this whole thing is by defending. We have faith in each other and led by Liam, we rebound our asses off.”