Comeback falls short for Whittell girls b-ball against Mineral County
ZEPHYR COVE — The Whittell girls basketball team fell in a 20-point hole against Mineral County on Saturday — and nearly climbed all the way out of it. The Warriors came within a point of the visiting Serpents in the fourth quarter before eventually falling short in a 51-39 loss.
“I’m happy with the effort — the girls came back, kept their heads up and just kept playing,” Warriors head coach Tom Esposito said. “We just ran out of gas.”
Whittell (7-15, 5-8 IV West) couldn’t avoid turnovers while starting Saturday’s game in less-than-ideal fashion. After guard Daria Sharon hit a pair of free throws to tie the game with 3:12 left in the opening quarter, Mineral County (11-11, 9-5) closed the frame with 10 straight points to take a 13-3 lead.
“We dribbled too deep into the defense (early on) — we had to back up and not go so deep,” Esposito said. “It was a 3-foot buffer — any closer and we were triple teamed.”
The Serpents scored the first seven points of the second quarter before Whittell ended their 17-point extended run with a putback from forward Jannia Castro. Mineral County had a 27-7 lead with 2:56 left in the half when the Warriors began their rally.
Whittell scored the last eight points of the second quarter, with guards Sharon, Kaitlyn Kjer and Kelsey Kjer each scoring during the run. By halftime the Warriors trailed 27-15 — a manageable deficit after a rough start.
“We went in the locker room and talked about what we needed to do — we were down 11 at their place and we came back, so we figured we could,” Esposito said. “We talked about how we had to get out hard and go on a run.”
The Warriors cut the Serpents’ lead to three points by the end of the third quarter after outscoring Mineral County 13-4 in the frame. Five Whittell players scored in the quarter, and that coupled with a 3-2 defense helped the Warriors close the gap to 31-28.
Mineral County stretched its lead to six points early in the fourth quarter before Whittell made its last push. A Sharon three-pointer followed by a Kaitlyn Kjer bank shot pulled the Warriors within one with 4:56 to play — but they weren’t able to complete the comeback.
“We almost tied it up, but we spent so much energy and didn’t have enough substitutes to replenish anybody,” Esposito said.
Whittell scored one point — a Kaitlyn Kjer free throw — over the next four minutes as the Serpents pulled away. The Warriors were without five players in the 12-point loss that all but ended their chances of making the postseason.
Kelsey Kjer scored a team-high 11 points in the loss, and Sharon added 10. Kaitlyn Kjer and Castro each finished with six.
Center Maddi Smith scored a game-high 16 points for Mineral County, who won its fifth straight game. Guard Tiara McFalls added 14 in the victory.
On Friday night, the Warriors rolled to their most lopsided victory of the season. Whittell beat Sage Ridge 52-18 at Evelyn Mount Community Center in the first and only meeting between the teams this season.
“We worked on getting ahead early — we knew we were going to be missing a couple of players, so we had to get the subs in there,” Esposito said. “They played aggressive and they played well.”
Whittell led 11-2 after the first quarter, and had a seven-point lead at halftime after being outscored by Sage Ridge (0-14, 0-13) in the second. The Warriors responded with a big third quarter that sparked their 34-point win.
“We settled down and did what we had to do — we knew what we were up against,” Esposito said.
Guard Samantha Forvilly led all scorers with 18 points in Friday’s win, equaling Sage Ridge’s total by herself. Sharon finished with nine while Kelsey Kjer and forward Jordyn Becker each scored eight apiece.
“We have a double-down play where we set screens for her — she hit a bunch of shots and was driving to the basket,” Esposito said of Forvilly.
Whittell won’t face Sage Ridge a second time in league play — the Scorpions will forfeit the teams’ second-round game scheduled for Wednesday. That victory will improve the Warriors to 6-8 in Div. IV West League action.
The Warriors return to action Friday night against Virginia City at 6 p.m. — their home finale is a “red out,” with all planning to attend encouraged to wear red. Whittell concludes the regular season Saturday at Sierra Lutheran.
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