League champions: Whittell boys b-ball claims share of Div. IV West title
Div. IV Northern Region Tournament
Feb. 19-21 at Spring Creek
Quarterfinals — Thursday
(1W) Whittell (23-2) vs. (4E) Owyhee (9-6) 4:40 p.m. at SCHS
(2E) McDermitt (15-9) vs. (3W) Mineral County (17-10) 3 p.m. at SCMS
(2W) Virginia City (25-3) vs. (3E) Wells (15-11) 6:20 at SCMS
(1E) Eureka (21-4) vs. (4W) Excel Christian (13-11) 8 p.m. at SCHS
Semifinals — Friday at SCHS
Whittell-Owyhee winner vs. McDermitt-Mineral County winner 4:40 p.m.
Eureka-Excel Christian winner vs. Virginia City-Wells winner 8 p.m.
Championship — Saturday 1 p.m. at SCHS
ZEPHYR COVE — In a showdown with Div. IV West League title implications, the defending league champion Whittell boys basketball team rose to the occasion. The Warriors beat Virginia City 57-43 last Friday to hand the Muckers their first loss of the season and force a tie for first place.
“It’s huge — they’re our rivals and you couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Warriors guard Palmer Chaplin, who scored a season-high 30 points in the win. “For as big of a win as this is, we still have zone and state — and our goal is to win league, zone and state. We can celebrate for a day and then it’s back to work.”
The following day, Whittell (23-2, 15-1 IV West) downed Sierra Lutheran 51-32 to claim a share of the league championship. Based on tiebreakers with Virginia City (25-3, 15-1), the Warriors earned the league’s No. 1 seed in the Div. IV Northern Region tournament, which begins Thursday in Spring Creek, Nev.
In Whittell’s high-stakes rematch with Virginia City, the Warriors took control early and pulled away late to deliver a 14-point win. The win snapped the Muckers’ 18-game winning streak while preventing them from securing the outright league championship.
“They lost seniors and we lost seniors — and we’re showing that we have a program that is going to develop kids over and over,” Chaplin said.
Whittell led 18-16 after a frenetic opening quarter — the Warriors opened up a six-point lead late in the frame but Virginia City scored four points in the last 49 seconds to tighten the game back up. The Warriors scored nine of their 13 second-quarter points from beyond the arc, allowing them to stretch their advantage to 31-25 by halftime.
“I felt we were in control from the tip and they were out of sync — we forced them to make some adjustments,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said.
Chaplin scored 17 points in the first half, and in the third quarter he single-handedly held off Virginia City. Chaplin scored all 11 of Whittell’s points in the frame, and his three-pointer with 3:00 left put the hosts ahead by 12.
“Palmer stepped up really big tonight,” Bryant said.
Whittell looked like it would close out Virginia City by the end of the third quarter, but the Muckers scored the last seven points of the frame — including five from star guard Clint Hess — to make it 42-37 headed into the fourth. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors finally broke Virginia City.
Whittell opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run, and held the Muckers scoreless for the first half of the frame. After the run, the Warriors maintained at least a 12-point lead en route to the victory.
“We were in control, but we really weren’t done until it was done — we had to make sure we were keeping our heads about us the whole game,” Chaplin said.
Chaplin finished with 30 points, eight assists and four steals in one of his best games of the season. Against Virginia City, the reigning league MVP delivered a performance worthy of winning the award for a second time.
“I don’t know what it was, but we were getting the ball to go in,” Chaplin said. “It felt really good — anything you shoot feels like it’s going in.”
Guard Colin Buchholz added 16 points, including six in the fourth quarter. Forward Quinn Kixmiller finished with seven points and 11 rebounds, while forward Bryce Bronken scored four points and pulled down 10 boards.
“We worked together really well — there were countless plays were everyone knew where each other was,” Chaplin said. “It was just bang, bang, bang, and all of a sudden it was in the hoop.”
Defensively for Whittell, the key was slowing down Hess. The Warriors held Virginia City’s explosive point guard to 17 points — all in the first three quarters — by employing multiple defenses and covering him with a rotation of Chaplin, Buchholz, Bronken and guard Osvaldo Reyes-Lucero.
“Our defensive design was set up to try to make it rough for their best player to score — he hit some big shots early but then he started forcing some things,” Bryant said of the Warriors’ defense, which featured a defender on Hess at all times as part of both a diamond-and-one and the bottom half of a 1-3-1 zone. “We were right on target for what we wanted to do — the other guys weren’t enough to beat us.”
Hess finished in double figures for the Muckers along with forward Sam McCain, who added 16 points. In front of an electric capacity crowd, Whittell avenged a 60-53 loss at Virginia City from the first round of league play.
“When you have a big crowd, the energy rises and it’s fun,” Chaplin said. “It was incredible — it was a high school player’s dream, and I would play that game over and over and over.”
The following day, Whittell secured the league championship with a 19-point with at Sierra Lutheran. The Warriors rode a fast start past the Falcons in their regular season finale.
“It was a very workmanlike win,” Bryant said. “My one pregame instruction was ‘finish the job’ — the win over Virginia City would have meant nothing if we would have lost that game.”
Whittell had a 21-4 lead after the first quarter, and subbed freely for the remaining three quarters. The Warriors led by 29 points after the third quarter, allowing reserves to take the floor for the entire fourth..
“I thought we looked a little sluggish even with the quick lead,” Bryant said. “I expected that to some degree after the effort the players put in the night before against Virginia City — our legs looked tired and the energy was way below what we normally get from everyone.”
Chaplin scored all of his game-high 25 points in the first three quarters of Saturday’s win — he hit five three-pointers and dished out eight assists. Bronken finished with 16 points and Kixmiller added six.
After earning the top seed in Div. IV West League, Whittell opens the regional tournament Thursday against Div. IV East League fourth seed Owyhee (Nev.) (9-6) — a pressing, running team that relies on the three-point shot. That quarterfinal game tips off at Spring Creek High at 4:40 p.m.
“We know it will be a tough road because everyone wants to be the team to knock us out,” Bryant said. “That’s fine, that’s what playoffs should be about — we will be ready.”
Virginia City earned the Div. IV West League’s second seed, Mineral County took the No. 3 seed and Excel Christian finished fourth — last year the Muckers beat Whittell for the regional title before the Warriors won the state championship. Eureka (Nev.) won the Div. IV East League crown with a 9-1 league mark — McDermitt (Nev.) took second and Wells (Nev.) finished third.
Semifinals will take place Friday at Spring Creek High with the regional championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. Each of the finalists will earn a berth in the state championship — two wins are needed to reach the regional title game.
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