Depth a key to Whittell’s title bid |

Depth a key to Whittell’s title bid

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / The Warriors' Megan Esquivel battles for a lose ball against Lovelock in a regional semifinal. Esquivel delivered eight points off the bench.

The deepest bench may determine the winner of the Whittell-Needles Nevada 2A state girls’ basketball semifinal tonight in Reno.

Both teams have athletically gifted starters who are most comfortable playing transition basketball. That said, they’ll need to catch a breather from time to time.

That is fine with the Warriors (18-7), who are returning to the state tournament after a 21-year absence.

“I like having a team where you can rely on the second string as much as the first,” said Whittell senior Tara Scaduto. “Instead of having a couple great players I think our whole team has something to offer.”

They certainly did in Winnemucca last weekend as Whittell coach Nathan Tolbert didn’t hesitate to use his 10-player roster in tight victories over Lovelock and Battle Mountain to earn the school’s first regional title in nearly 30 years.

An injury to leading scorer Katrina Kacirek and jaw surgery to Kelly Karmann gave Whittell’s bench an opportunity to contribute in key moments over the last half of the season. The dividends from that unsettled period that saw Whittell lose six straight games was transparent in Winnemucca.

“I don’t think we’ve lost a game with our whole team together,” Tolbert said.

That could be a scary thought for the Mustangs (19-8), who had a 12-game winning streak stopped by Lincoln County in the Southern 2A Regional Championship last Saturday. But Needles coach Bill Powell likes his depth, too.

“This is unchartered territory for them and myself,” said Needles coach Bill Powell. “We are actually a young team with only one senior. On any one night one of our top scorers is off, the others are picking up the slack. It’s been pretty fun to watch.”

Needles counters Franki Medrano, Brittany Kidd and Louise Salomon to Whittell’s athletic trio of Kacirek, Jessica Woods and Kelly Karmann.

Medrano scored a career-high 32 points during the Mustangs’ final regular season victory over Lincoln County and Kidd, a transfer from Phoenix, has been tough to guard because of her quickness.

Kacirek has averaged better than 15 points per game with a career high of 35. In the regional final, she decimated Battle Mountain with her fearless drives to the basket, scoring a game-high 26 points.

“I think the regional title opened our eyes on how good we really can be. Whether we go into state with the same attitude as zone is (the key),” Kacirek said. “Now that it’s happened, we’ll go to state with our heads held up higher and more confident, but not overconfident.”

The game gets under way at 6:20 p.m. at North Valleys High School, with the winner advancing to the title game against either Battle Mountain or Lincoln County at 6:40 p.m. Saturday in Lawlor Events Center.

Whittell senior guard Sarah Ingenluyff, who was injured against Battle Mountain, is expected to play. Her bruised knee was better by midweek and she was participating in some light drills.

Whittell has coined today as “Paint the School Red Day.” Fans going to tonight’s game are being encouraged to wear something red.

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