Whittell boys b-ball wins Div. IV Northern Region championship, takes 23-game winning streak into state
Div. IV Northern Region Tournament
Feb. 18-20 at Wooster
(1W) Whittell 69, (4E) Jackpot 36
(3W) Pyramid Lake 66, (2E) Wells 48
(4W) Virginia City 37, (2E) Eureka 36
(2W) Mineral County 69, (3E) Owyhee 58
Whittell 60, Pyramid Lake 49
Mineral County 46, Virginia City 20
Whittell 60, Mineral County 44
For as much as the Whittell boys basketball team has accomplished in the past four seasons, it now has something new to celebrate. The Warriors captured the Div. IV Northern Region championship by beating Mineral County 60-44 at Wooster High on Saturday, Feb. 20, their first regional title since the arrival of head coach Phil Bryant.
“It’s pretty special,” Bryant said. “It’s been really rewarding.”
Whittell (25-2) won three games in three days to claim the Div. IV regional title after two straight years finishing as runner-up. The West League champions downed a pair of league rivals en route to the crown — third-seeded Pyramid Lake on Friday, Feb. 19, and second-seeded Mineral County the following afternoon.
In the regional title game Saturday, Whittell wore down the Serpents en route to victory. The Warriors broke a halftime tie with a big third quarter that proved to be the difference in a 16-point victory.
“We made some mental adjustments at halftime and agreed that we could play better with more effort and energy,” Bryant said. “That’s a good thing about this team — I can tell them what I see the problem is and they can fix it.”
Early on in Saturday’s title game, nothing could separate Whittell and Mineral County. The score was even after each of the first two quarters, with the Serpents leaning mostly on junior big man Taylen Wacsmuth inside — a putback from Brandon West with two seconds left in the first half made it 28-28.
“Mineral County came out with a good game plan and pounded the ball inside to Taylen for easy baskets,” Bryant said. “They combined that with aggressive rebounding and second chance opportunities — that created problems for us.”
Whittell stuck with its full-court pressure in the second half. And even though the Warriors’ defense caused only seven turnovers in the first two frames, it became more effective after the break.
“They do not have a deep bench,” Bryant said. “The press was gradually wearing them down because of the 90 feet they had to work to get to the scoring end.”
The Warriors outscored Mineral County 21-7 in the third quarter, which proved to be the decisive frame. Whittell’s 60-44 win extended its unbeaten streak to 23 games headed into the state tournament.
Senior Colin Buchholz led Whittell with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting Saturday to go along with seven rebounds. Senior Palmer Chaplin, playing with limited mobility after injuring his ankle in the quarterfinals two days earlier, finished with 18 points and seven assists.
Senior Quinn Kixmiller added eight points and 11 rebounds against Mineral County while sophomore Caleb Moretti finished with six points and six rebounds. Defensively, sophomore Corey Huber drew the assignment of covering Mineral County’s athletic scoring threat Robert McFalls — and held the talented freshman to four points.
“This game, more than any other this year, proves the value of team in providing opportunities to win,” Bryant said.
In the regional semifinals Friday night, Whittell survived an upset scare from Pyramid Lake to secure a state tournament berth. In front of a packed house that was mostly pro-Lakers, the Warriors rallied in the second half behind stifling defense to deliver a 60-49 win.
“Even though the expectation was that high, it’s still monumental and it’s still a big deal,” Chaplin said. “That game came down to the wire, and getting a win like that is huge.”
Whittell led 31-28 after a back-and-forth first half, but Pyramid Lake opened the third quarter with six straight points — all courtesy of Allen Tatsey — to jump in front. Later in the frame back-to-back 3-pointers put the Lakers ahead 45-37 with 2:45 left, and the Warriors appeared on the ropes.
“At no point were we down on ourselves,” Chaplin said. “It was just even keel — we just had to stay at an even level and stay positive through the whole thing.”
With its season in the balance, Whittell switched from a combination defense to man-to-man — and the change in strategy suggested by assistant coach Matt Bryant fueled the comeback. The Warriors closed the game on a 23-4 run to survive Pyramid Lake’s upset bid and deliver their biggest win of the season.
“It was a gutsy win on our part,” Bryant said. “Our fans were great right behind us, and that spirit and enthusiasm really helped us.”
Whittell scored the last eight points of the third quarter to tie the game 45-45. With the game tied early in the fourth quarter, Moretti scored six straight points — including a three-point play that made it 52-47 with 2:46 to play — to put the Warriors in front for good.
“When he made that shot and that free throw, you could kind of see them getting worried,” Chaplin said. “From that point, it just added fuel to the fire.”
Chaplin led Whittell with 19 points and seven assists in the regional semifinal victory, Moretti had 14 points and seven rebounds, and Buchholz added 13 points and seven rebounds. For Moretti, the total marked a season high — and his production couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Caleb has been the ‘X’ factor in these playoff games with energy and production from off the bench,” Bryant said.
For the third straight year, Whittell will end its season in the state tournament. The Warriors enter the Div. IV State tournament as the North’s top seed, and will face Adelson (Las Vegas) in the semifinals Friday, Feb. 26, at Reed High in Sparks — tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.
“It’s really special,” Chaplin said. “We just have to build on it.”
South top seed Word of Life Christian Academy (Las Vegas) and North second seed Mineral County will meet in the second semifinal Friday at 6:20 p.m. The Div. IV State championship game will be held at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at Lawlor Events Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
“For us, it is more about how we play than how the opponent plays,” Bryant said. “We just need to do what we do and do it well.”