Warriors confident despite being postseason rookies
With a win Friday, Whittell can advance to state tourney for first time in seven years
The winner gets the hotel accommodations and a state tournament berth, while the loser is relegated to preparing for spring sports.
Those are the stakes when Whittell meets Lovelock in the semifinals of the Northern Nevada 2A Division boys basketball tournament Friday at 3 p.m. in Hawthorne.
“It would mean the world. We came so close to winning state for soccer that this would make up for it 10 fold,” said Whittell senior forward Bryan Sigel, who scored a combined 35 points in two meetings with the Mustangs. “I think all the boys are optimistic about it, that we can pull it off. That’s a great way to go into it.”
Four of the division’s five teams are gathering for the two-day tournament, with state berths going to the teams that advance to Saturday’s championship.
Even though the Warriors (11-13 overall, 4-4 in division) finished behind the Mustangs (14-9, 5-3) in the regular-season standings, they know they can beat them. Whittell edged Lovelock 63-61 on Jan. 13 before the Mustangs bombed the Warriors from the perimeter in a 74-63 triumph Feb. 2.
“I think we can beat them,” said freshman guard Nick Summers, who averages 15 points per game and scored a career-high 29 points in the first game with Lovelock. “There hasn’t been any big blowouts from any team in the league, so we feel we have as good of a chance as anyone.”
Lovelock seven-year coach Lance Condie has watched Whittell jell into a unit to be reckoned with.
“What concerns me about Whittell is that they’re a good team. What they’ve done up there is a good job of teaching their kids roles to play,” Condie said. “I wouldn’t be as concerned if they had one or two good ballplayers and that was it. We can’t worry about just one guy.”
Condie’s respect for Whittell is also shared by the athletic department in negotiating a budget-conscious deal for motel accommodations on Friday. The schools have agreed that the winner will receive the rooms, while the loser will bus home.
In the first meeting, Whittell recovered from a 10-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to win. In the last meeting, Lovelock jumped out to a 10-point lead on a barrage of 3-pointers and used an edge on the boards for the double-digit victory. However, the Warriors didn’t have senior forward Luke Forvilly for the latter game.
“They are a perimeter team. We just can’t lose track of anybody because they can make you pay,” said Warriors’ sixth year coach Steve Maltase, who is making his first trip to the playoffs.
Five Mustangs – only one starter – were part of the Mustangs’ Nevada 3A state semifinal run last winter. Four of them – 6-foot forward Scott Santos, 6-1 center Richard Vasquez, 5-9 guard David Grenz and 5-4 point guard Matt Jones – aren’t imposing athletes, but they know how to fill up the basket.
“They can shoot it pretty much from anywhere. They get the ball and shoot,” said Whittell sophomore reserve Jake Summers.
Lovelock is one of the few teams in the league that can consistently break Whittell’s unnerving full-court press. Hence, Maltase has tried a 2-3 zone defense in their two previous matchups. But that game plan may change Friday. Several Warriors hinted that the Mustangs won’t see the same defense when they lock up in Hawthorne.
“Our (new) defense should help slow them down a bit,” Nick Summers said.
Sigel intends to focus his energy on rebounding.
“I think it will be a very physical game,” said Sigel, who leads the Warriors with 15.5 points and six rebounds per game. “The last time it was a pure rebounding game. They beat us on the boards that night, so we need to step up that part of the game.
“I’m sure we can beat them if we can take out their rebounding.”
Whittell also prefers to spot up for 3-point attempts and the pesky defensive pressure by sophomore Nestor Flores (8.4 points, four steals per game) has led to a bevy of transition chances. But Whittell has yet to produce a game where all of its outside marksmen are hitting the target.
“It’s pretty much a free-for-all when we play each other,” Maltase said. “It’s a quickly paced up-and-down game. A lot more layins have been scored because it’s off transition.”
The Warriors have demonstrated that they can win when the pace is slower, too. In their playoff-clinching win over Incline last Friday, the Warriors only scored 48 points, but it was more than enough because of their defensive execution.
“We need to have a good defensive performance,” Maltase said. “You can throw out everything that’s happened between us. It just comes down to who wants it more. We need to match their intensity and execute.”
Unlike the Mustangs, no one on the Whittell roster has ever played in a postseason basketball game.
“That could be good or bad,” Maltase said. “They don’t seem to be nervous. They seem to be excited and taking it as another game.”
Added Condie, “I don’t think they’ll have a problem with their playoff inexperience. At this point, it comes down to the character that you have.”
The winner plays the Tonopah-Incline survivor for the division championship at noon Saturday. But one win isn’t all the Warriors are after.
“So far, everything has been perfect,” Nick Summers said. “Now we’re going to zone and we’re one win from playing at Lawlor. One win gets us there, but two would be nice.”
Northern Nevada 2A Division Tournament
Friday and Saturday
At Mineral County High, Hawthorne
Whittell vs. Lovelock, 3 p.m.
Tonopah vs. Incline, 6 p.m.
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