Warriors show their heart and soul
WINNEMUCCA – It was a heartwarming story.
Both regional victories came from the heart and came down to heart-wrenching conclusions.
Valentine’s Day had come and gone earlier in the week and it was evident that the Whittell High girls’ basketball team saved their biggest heart for the Northern 2A League Regional Championships on Friday and Saturday.
Whittell ended two decades of frustration by capturing the Northern 2A League regional title with upset victories over Lovelock and Battle Mountain.
“We knew a Whittell girls’ basketball team hasn’t made it this far in so many years and we wanted to prove that we could come this far,” said Whittell senior Katrina Kacirek, who made 12-of-14 foul shots and scored a game-high 26 points in the win over Battle Mountain.
As a result, the Warriors will make their first trip to the state tournament in 21 years. Whittell (18-7), the top seed from the North, will play Needles, the South’s No. 2 seed, in a Nevada 2A state semifinal on Friday night at North Valleys High School in Reno.
“We kept them focused on how it felt last year when we fell one-point short of making it to state and worked hard so it didn’t happen again,” said Whittell coach Nathan Tolbert. “They just refused to lose.”
At their best when behind
There were telltale signs in both the regional semifinal and finals that Whittell was about to suffer a broken heart. But each time the Warriors picked themselves up and fought harder.
In a 51-48 state-clinching victory over Lovelock on Friday, the Warriors were outscored 12-3 to start the second half and fell behind 34-28.
But junior Jessica Woods and senior Tara Scaduto did a bulk of the offensive work while Brittney Makara and Sarah Ingenluyff executed the defensive game plan.
Woods triggered a decisive 17-2 run by scoring 11 of her game-high 16 points as Whittell built a 45-36 lead with 4 minutes, 35 seconds to go.
But the defending regional champs didn’t go away without a fight. Struggling from the perimeter all game long, the Mustangs finally coaxed in three-point baskets by Kassie Houston and Morgan Thacker to pull within a point, 48-47.
After Whittell missed a field goal attempt, Lovelock leading scorer Krystal Glass was fouled with 1:03 left. Glass, who was contained all-game long by the Warriors, missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Warriors grabbed the rebound.
An inopportune turnover returned the possession to Lovelock, but again the Mustangs couldn’t covert a three-point look.
Warriors deliver at the line
Lovelock committed an unnecessary foul on the next possession, as Scaduto pulled up to shoot just inside the three-point arc. Scaduto calmly sank both free throws, giving Whittell a 50-47 lead with :40 left.
“I hate shooting free throws when it’s that close, because if you miss you feel all of the pressure and that you let down your team,” Scaduto said. “I’m just glad that I could hold up to the pressure.”
A steal by Kacirek near midcourt put the Warriors in position to run out the clock, but Kelly Karmann was unable to bury a 5-foot shot from the baseline.
Refusing to give Lovelock an opportunity to tie with a trifecta, Woods fouled Kayla Brinkerhoff with 7.6 seconds to go. Brinkerhoff missed the first but made the second, making the score 50-48 Whittell.
Lovelock quickly fouled Scaduto following the inbound pass, and Scaduto responded by draining 1 of 2 to restore a three-point lead. Scaduto was clutch at the charity stripe, sinking 9-of-13 attempts as the Warriors cashed in 25-of-36 opportunities.
The Mustangs, on the other hand, were 10 of 26 at the line.
After Scaduto’s miss, the ball was knocked out of bounds, and Whittell was awarded possession. The Warriors easily got the ball back in play and ran out the clock.
“The second time we played them they didn’t have their two best players and we beat them, and now they had those two back, so it felt good to know that we could do it and not because they didn’t have their best players,” Makara said.
Warriors use ‘D’ to fight back
Lovelock had the early momentum, building a 5-0 lead – an advantage that could have been larger had the Mustangs taken care of the basketball.
But Whittell found its rhythm after switching to a 2-1-1-1 full-court press and Lovelock continued to cough up the basketball.
“Usually at the beginning of the games we don’t play well until we settle down,” Scaduto said. “The pressure helped us out even more, because they got tired quicker.”
Karmann’s pair of free throws ended Whittell’s scoring drought with 2:26 to go in the quarter and when Woods found the bottom of the net from beyond the arc with a minute left, Whittell took its first lead at 9-7.
An empty Glass
Ingenluyff and Makara were instrumental in shutting down the high-scoring Glass with their aggressive man-to-man defense. Glass, who scored 28 points in last year’s regional semifinal victory over Whittell, was held to four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
“That was our goal today, to keep her from shooting all of the points,” Ingenluyff said. “I tried to cut her off and be in front of her the whole time.
“She likes to drive and that’s what killed us the first time we played them, but as soon we cut her off we limited her to very few layups.”
The big redhead
The victory over Lovelock did more than qualify the Warriors for state. Tolbert had promised the year before that if the Warriors qualified for state that he would shave his head.
The girls, however, decided to spare Tolbert’s head of hair and dyed his dark brown locks Warrior red.
“We all dyed our hair red that night and wrote WHS on his bald spot,” Kacirek said. “It made everyone a little less nervous (about Saturday’s game) and put a smile on everyone and showed how close everyone on our team is.”
That togetherness hasn’t been lost on the seniors.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been with a team. I love every single one of my teammates and you can see it … we have so much fun together,” Scaduto said.
After the emotionally draining victory on Friday, few observers gave the Warriors a chance to knock off regular-season champion Battle Mountain in the finals Saturday.
“I wasn’t even expecting the win.” Tolbert said. “We had played with so much emotion day before, I didn’t know what we’d have left the next day.”
And for a quarter, the prognostications appeared to be correct. But after falling behind 22-11, the Warriors began to realize that the Longhorns weren’t any better than them.
“The reason we were down at the beginning is that we were too focused on beating them instead of focusing on playing our game and doing what we know how to do,” Kacirek said.
Stalling the momentum
The momentum swung early in the second period after the Longhorns extended their lead to 13 points and went into a delay game. The stall tactic backfired as the Warriors forced several turnovers and converted on the other end.
By halftime, the Warriors had stayed within reach at 11 points and began believing that a regional title was possible.
“We told them there was nothing else to do after this game, so we encouraged them to leave it all on the floor and they did,” Tolbert said.
Karmann plays big
The lead went back and forth throughout much of the second half and the outcome came down to several critical plays.
The 6-foot-1 Karmann delivered two huge plays in the final 10 seconds – the first a offensive rebound putback for a 61-59 lead and then a rebound of a missed free throw by Tara Tremayne with :02 remaining.
Tremayne had a chance to send the game into overtime, but after sinking the first try, missed the second.
“She’s always practicing and always makes her foul shots,” Kacirek said. “When Brittney fouled her, I actually was pretty scared, but at the same time I thought something might happen because there was so much pressure on her.”
Karmann pulled down the all-important rebound and kicked the ball out to Makara to kill the final seconds.
“We were all ecstatic and rest of crowd was quiet,” Tolbert said. “I don’t think anybody expected this but us. I really didn’t expect it; I expected it next weekend.”
Tolbert didn’t allow an injured Ingenluyff (knee, thigh) to miss out on the postgame celebration. As the team was celebrating on the court, Tolbert scrambled over to the bench and scooped up Ingenluyff and brought her into the center of the revelry.
The Warriors limited Tremayne to 18 points with a box-and-one defense that gave a number of Warriors a chance to defend her.
“We were trying to frustrate her and get into her head and I think it worked,” Kacirek said.
Woods finished with 16 points for the second straight game.
Friday, Feb. 24
Semifinals at North Valleys
Lincoln County vs. Battle Mountain, 3 p.m.
Whittell vs. Needles, 6:20 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25
Championship at Lawlor Events Center
Semifinal winners, 6:40 p.m.
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