Vikings ‘overachieve’ in 16th straight state appearance
Although South Tahoe High was one of seven 4A boys state basketball teams returning home last weekend with sullen faces and unfulfilled dreams, the Vikings demonstrated why their “unique” style of play makes them effective against schools twice their size.
Las Vegas ended the Vikings’ visions of claiming the school’s third state title with a 66-53 triumph in the state semifinals on Friday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
But Las Vegas, which draws from a pool of 3,005 students compared to 1,432 for South Tahoe, knew it was in for a game before taking the floor at Lawlor.
“They’re real focused and they have good coaching. They do a lot of backdoor cuts and a lot of fundamentals. They’re a good fundamental team,” said Las Vegas guard Ronnie Jones, who scored a game-high 23 points.
Despite limited time to prepare for STHS after a quarterfinal rout of Sparks on Thursday, Las Vegas dealt with Viking basketball: an offense predicated on patience and backdoor cuts and a defense that’s in your face for 32 minutes.
“We had only 45 minutes to prepare for South Tahoe,” said a chuckling Las Vegas coach Tom Farnsworth. “But we practiced all year long for situations like this.
“Not very many Vegas teams pull the ball out. (Thursday) night on one possession Tahoe had 14 passes. We don’t see that. That’s tough on a defense to have to play for that long. But I thought our guys handled that really well.”
Jones was instrumental in leading his Cinderella team, which rallied from 10 points down in the final minute to beat Bishop Gorman in its Southern Nevada zone opener Feb. 17, over Northern Nevada’s Cinderella Vikings.
“We don’t normally see that many passes or that many backdoor cuts,” Jones said. “You’ve got to lay off to a certain point and at certain points you have to get up really close and get some good help-side defense. That’s what we practiced every day – help-side defense – and it paid off.”
The 5-9 junior guard blistered South Tahoe for three trifectas and, along with 5-7 backcourt mate Mario Finley, sliced up the Vikings’ man defense with myriad drives to the basket.
“They have two tremendous guards. One is a real good penetrator and the other is a tremendous shooter. That is a great combination,” said Viking coach Tom Orlich.
Even though the Wildcats threatened to blow out the Vikings in the first quarter, South Tahoe was the team owning a three-point lead, 44-41, late in the third period. But a three-pointer by Finley triggered a 13-2 Vegas run that effectively terminated the Vikings’ season.
“We went to the 23 (zone) and took away a lot of their backdoor cuts and back screens and they had to pull out a little. I think that took them out of their rhythm,” Farnsworth said.
Afterward, Orlich was distraught with the officiating, but had nothing but praise for his “overachieving team,” which finished 27-6, made the school’s 16th consecutive state appearance and won their first state game in six years with a 51-47 win over Cheyenne on Thursday.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is one of the teams that has surprised me. My other championship teams were always good in this area and good in that area. But let’s be honest, we didn’t have a legit point guard and we didn’t have a legit post man, and those are the two most-important positions in basketball,” Orlich said. “They really overachieved and we still had the capability of winning state. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
In his final locker room speech to the Vikings of 1997-98, Orlich kept things positive.
“I told them I was proud of them and proud of the year they had. We had a great ride and I have no regrets,” Orlich said. “Our kids went out and prepared hard and worked hard in the off-season. They focused, they knew the game plan and they executed to the best of their ability.”
While many observers picked Galena to go undefeated in Northern Nevada League play, it was the Vikings who went 16-0 and claimed the school’s 11th division title in 12 years. Although Galena avenged a 58-54 regular-season loss to South Tahoe with an overtime win in the zone finals, the Vikings’ methodical and purposeful play slowed the more athletically gifted Grizzlies into a half-court game.
Orlich, who has 471 career wins at STHS, loses three of his five starters, but is very optimistic about Viking basketball for the next few years.
“When it’s all said and done, we’re going to leave Lawlor a happy camper. We’ll change that in the next year or two,” Orlich promised.
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