Warriors win the one that counts
Whittell High has only won three basketball games this season, but the Warriors have made each one count.
Their 57-44 neutral-site playoff victory over Tonopah on Tuesday in Hawthorne clinched a spot in the Northern Division boys basketball tournament, which begins Friday in Lovelock.
“It feels good to travel this far to get a win,” said WHS senior Ryan Salomon, who scored a career-high 24 points.
First-year coach Don Amaral has been on the short end of many tight games this season, but following the playoff victory he expressed that the win may be the beginning of another run at state.
“We are two wins away from going to state,” said Amaral by phone. “The kids are pumped. This was our best game of the season.”
The Warriors’ big three guns — Salomon, Nestor Flores and Jake Summers — combined for 56 of the team’s 57 points. Flores tossed in 17 and Summers 15.
Whittell’s fourth win in its past five meetings with Tonopah didn’t come easily. The Muckers led 29-21 in the the third period before Whittell turned up its defensive pressure.
“The team played as a team,” Amaral said. “When they got their backs against a wall, they just all came together and started pushing.
“The key was the defensive pressure we were putting on (R.J.) Clifford and sealing off the boards in the last 12 minutes.”
In the final 12 minutes, the Warriors outscored the Muckers 36-15.
Early on, the Warriors looked as if they would cruise to their third win in 24 games. They shot out to a 16-8 lead after one period, but the Muckers closed to within three points by halftime.
After Tonopah took control early in the second half, the Warriors used constant defensive switches and solid rebounding to turn the tables.
“Brian Jones, Joey Ilk and Kyle Olsen had enormous rebounding games,” Amaral said.
Summers also was a key on defense as he held Clifford to two points over the final 12 minutes.
The Warriors will play division tournament host Lovelock (15-10) Friday at 7:30 p.m. Both of Whittell’s losses to Lovelock were tightly contested games.
Only the winner of the four-team division tournament advances to the state tournament.