Warriors inch toward postseason contention
Moments after the final buzzer sounded in Zephyr Cove Saturday night, Whittell center James Putnam greeted coach Steve Maltase with an emotional, feet-off-the-ground bear hug. The postgame embrace clearly signaled the Warriors’ 46-40 win over Dayton, but it also painted a clear picture of a team that seems to be playing its best basketball at just the right time.
“It feels so good to be winning now,” said Maltase, whose team has won three in a row for the first time this season. “It’s an incredible feeling, but it’s about time. I think we’re starting to believe in ourselves now, and it shows.”
After nursing an iffy 22-21 lead at halftime, Whittell burst out of the gates with a 14-4 run to take control of the game by the end of the third. Putnam scored eight of his 14 points in the quarter, converting four buckets from point-blank range while cleaning the glass with seven rebounds. Southpaw Dusty Apocotos gave the Warriors their biggest lead of the game, calmly draining a three to up the margin to 36-23 with 1:06 left in the third. The Dust Devils clawed back late in the fourth period, closing the Warrior lead to 45-40 with 20 seconds remaining.
Whittell upped its overall record to 9-11 with the victory, evening its divisional mark at 4-4. Once considered an afterthought for the 3A Division II zone tournament, the Warriors have rekindled playoff hopes with their stellar play of late.
“We’re still a long shot, but we’ve put ourselves in a better position for (making) the playoffs,” said Maltase, whose squad topped Incline Friday and Lovelock earlier last week. “I think some people had counted us out already, but we’re still around.”
Whittell has remaining league games against Yerinton, Lovelock, Mineral City and Manogue and will likely have to win out to qualify for the postseason. The top four teams in the division are invited to the playoffs, which begin Feb. 17.
“I think we’re finally playing as a team,” said guard Adrian Norman, who contributed five points against the Dust Devils. “We’ve been starting to realize that if we come together and play as a unit, things get done.”
Apocotos poured in 11 points while Avery Norman added seven.
Persistence paid off for the Warriors on Friday night against Incline as Whittell overcame a 30-19 halftime margin to seal a 48-43 victory.
The Warriors outscored the Highlanders in 17-6 in the third quarter to knot the game at 36 apiece going into the final eight minutes. Though Putnam could only net two points for the game, Apocotos and Avery Norman combined for eight fourth-quarter points to clinch the win.
“If we can beat the division’s first-place team without significant points from our leading scorer, that means other guys are stepping up and contributing,” Maltase said.
After early season wins against Fernley and defending 3A state champion Truckee, Whittell struggled once the division schedule arrived. The Warriors lost their first three league contests, before rallying to win four out of their past five.
“We had trouble getting used to our own style of play, and a lot of it clashed early on. I think we’re really putting it all together now.”
The Warriors will look to continue their match toward the postseason with a win at home against Yerington on Wednesday.
Whittell Girls Basketball:
Down nine points going into the fourth quarter, the Whittell girls basketball team scored 25 points in the final frame to rally for a cathartic 61-56 win over Incline Friday night.
“It was a great win because the girls were out there on the road playing with a lot of heart,” said Warriors coach Lindsay Wines, whose squad picked up their first division win against six defeats. “I was really pleased with their play. To beat a good basketball team on their home turf is a big win for us.”
Wines switched to a smaller, quicker four-guard offense for the final quarter, forcing several turnovers and creating some easy transition baskets. Warrior Aurora Terry led all scorers with a game-high 21 points, while Caitlin Fagan and Sarah Sufka added 18 and 14, respectively.
Whittell struggled Saturday, falling to Dayton at home in a 53-25 defeat. Twenty first-half turnovers and a 28-11 halftime deficit spoiled the Warriors’ chance for a second straight win.
“I think the girls might have been a little emotionally drained because Friday night was such a high for us,” said Wines, who has home games remaining against Yerington and Lovelock. “As much as they pulled together (on Friday), they didn’t do it at all (Saturday).”
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