No luck in Las Vegas: Whittell boys b-ball falls to Spring Mountain in state semifinals
Div. IV Boys Basketball State Championships
Feb. 27-28 at Orleans Arena
(1S) Spring Mountain 69, (2N) Whittell 54
(2S) Pahranagat Valley 26, (1N) Virginia City 23
Spring Mountain 61, Pahranagat Valley 38
LAS VEGAS — The Whittell boys basketball had a slim margin for error against talented and athletic opposition in the NIAA Div. IV state semifinals — and didn’t deliver its top performance. The defending state champion Warriors lost to South top seed Spring Mountain (Las Vegas) 69-54 last Friday at Orleans Arena, bringing an end to their 2014-15 season.
“It showed and exposed some of the weaknesses we have when we’re being pressured and trying to make good decisions,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said. “In our league, we don’t see teams like that on a regular basis — we think we’re prepared and we duplicated it as much as possible, but they showed they weren’t ready for that.”
Whittell (25-4) battled to keep pace with the Golden Eagles in the first half, and trailed by eight points midway through the second quarter before rallying to make it 29-26 at halftime. The Warriors pulled within a point with 6:26 left in third quarter on a bank shot from guard Palmer Chaplin — then Spring Mountain (23-4) took control of the contest.
“When we closed on them a little in the second quarter, they got rattled,” Bryant said. “But then they got the momentum in the third and we got rattled.”
The Golden Eagles went on a 15-3 run in a four-minute span, extending their lead to 13 points on a pair of free throws from guard Steven Jones with 2:24 left in the frame. Three Spring Mountain players scored at least four points as part of the run — guard Shakori Clark’s six points included a four-point play that made it 41-32.
“If you look at the possessions in that quarter, we had some really careless turnovers that led to breakaways — and those guys are going to finish those breakaways,” Bryant said. “If we could have matched them basket for basket through the third quarter, we would have been in good shape.”
The Warriors trailed 49-37 after the third quarter, and made one last push to keep its season alive in the final frame. Whittell methodically chipped away at Spring Mountain’s lead, and made it a seven-point game with 2:54 left after Chaplin hit a pair of free throws.
“The message was ‘get a stop and get a bucket’ — we had plenty of time, so if we got stops and buckets we’d be fine,” Bryant said. “We got the stops — we got some turnovers, steals and rebounds — but we didn’t go to the other end and score.”
Whittell made a defensive stop after Chaplin’s free throws, but couldn’t convert on the ensuing offensive possession. A missed shot sprung a Spring Mountain fast break that led to a layup by forward Deondre Ishman — and that basket sparked a 7-0 run that ended the Warriors’ chance of a comeback.
“They just made their shots — those guys were good at it, played in the clutch and we couldn’t get them out of focus as much as we would have liked to,” Bryant said. “If they would have missed a few more, we might have been able to come back.”
In the first half, Whittell stayed with the Div. IV Southern League champion Golden Eagles due in large part to the play of forward Quinn Kixmiller. The 6-foot-3-inch forward controlled play inside and showed range in the first two quarters, scoring 13 of his 17 points before the break — he also finished with 11 rebounds.
“Quinn has always been a battler, but he’s become more of a finesse player instead of just a banger — he was fun to watch tonight and he gave us a real spark,” Bryant said. “Quinn was what we’ve always kind of expected him to be and hoped he would be.”
After the break, however, Spring Mountain began fronting Kixmiller in the post defensively and kept him from getting the ball. Kixmiller scored four points in the second half and Whittell couldn’t find a scoring threat besides Chaplin, who scored 14 of the Warriors’ 17 fourth-quarter points en route to a game-high 26.
“Palmer feels pressure at times that he needs to do it and make things happen — he’s been our guy, so we have to go with that,” Bryant said. “When other guys aren’t scoring, we need him to score — he carries that load in big games.”
Chaplin and Kixmiller combined for 43 points against Spring Mountain — but only two other Warriors scored in the loss. Guard Colin Buchholz finished with seven points and forward Bryce Bronken added four.
“We didn’t always make good decisions with the ball and we had some really careless turnovers,” Bryant said. “The game was over the head of a few players and we struggled with that.”
Spring Mountain, on the other hand, had four players score in double figures in the victory. Backcourt starters Clark and Jones each scored 18 points to lead the Golden Eagles, Ishman added 12 off the bench and forward Maurice Stitt finished with 11 — Spring Mountain hit seven three-pointers against Whittell, including three apiece in the first and third quarters.
“They hit some contested shots — but we were late and got lost a couple of times,” Bryant said. “Those guys are feeling it even if they’re not making it — they’re going up with confidence all the time.”
Spring Mountain went onto beat Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.) 61-38 in an all-South Div. IV championship game Saturday to win the first state title in school history. The Golden Eagles delivered a championship for retiring coach Ed Cheltenham by beating the Panthers, who reached the title game with a 26-23 win over North top seed Virginia City in the semifinals.
For Whittell, the loss ended its season short of its ultimate goal — a second straight state championship — and marked the final game for seniors Bronken and Osvaldo Reyes-Lucero. The Warriors had a memorable campaign cut short by the best team they have faced all season long.
“Every season to me is a great memory, and this one certainly was because of the kids and how they played,” Bryant said. “I’m extremely proud of the kids and their performance during the year.
“I look at the faces of the seniors and it’s always tough — but so many great things happen and you have to focus on that.”
Even with the defeat, Whittell reached 25 wins for the second straight season. The Warriors have become a small school power over the past two years, and expect continued growth as a program in the seasons to some.
“We’ve won 50 games in two years, and we’re becoming a program,” Bryant said. “But the yardstick is always what’s in front of you.”
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