The DI North girls basketball playoffs start tonight and the two Rail City squads could not be in different camps.
Reed (17-3, 13-3) finished second in the High Desert League but limps into tonight’s quarterfinal game at home against Damonte Ranch (12-10, 8-8) – the Sierra League’s third place team.
Spanish Springs (18-7, 9-7) is the HDL No. 3 seed and coasts into tonight’s quarterfinal at Douglas (19-8, 12-4) riding a four-game winning streak. The Tigers finished second in the Sierra League behind Bishop Manogue.
Both quarterfinals tip at 7 p.m.
For a portion of the regular season, the Raiders appeared to be the team to beat in the North – along with No. 1 Reno.
But the Raiders’ starting lineup to finish the regular season is a far cry from the dominant mid-season group. Gabby Williams – one of the best prep girls basketball players in the country – tore her ACL for the second consecutive season and now Reed is playing without senior post Tina Vernon.
Vernon re-aggravated a knee injury sustained in PE class a month ago and missed the last two regular games of the season. Her status for tonight’s game against the Mustangs was unknown before Monday’s practice but coach Sara Ramirez prepared over the weekend as if Vernon will not suit up.
Still, Ramirez said the second significant injury suffered by her squad is not drowning the mood going into the single-elimination tournament.
“I think that they are excited and I think they are very positive,” Ramirez said. “They know they have a chance of getting pretty far in the playoffs. They aren’t going to take it lightly though. They know if you lose you’re done … I think they know what they can do, what they can accomplish.”
With Vernon and Williams both watching from the bench, Reed saw its six-game winning streak come to a close in Friday’s regular-season finale at home to Spanish Springs, 54-51. Ramirez said she does not believe the loss has an impact on tonight’s game.
She said one thing her team can take from the loss is the importance of connecting on open looks. The Raiders hit just 17-of-56 shots (30 percent) in the loss.
“We had a lot of good looks Friday but we just couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” Ramirez said.
The Raiders played Damonte once this season and walked away with a 69-47 home win two weeks ago. Reed was without Williams in the game but did have Vernon – who finished with a double-double (18 points and 15 rebounds).
“If we come out hard and are executing, I think we will be right there. I think we will be fine,” Ramirez said.
Reed’s other post, Nakiyah LeSure, finished with 29 points in the win over the Mustangs and will likely play another large role tonight if Vernon is unable to go.
The Raiders will play the winner of the North Valleys (HDL No. 4) at Bishop Manogue (SL No. 1) matchup, on Thursday, if they win tonight.
While the Raiders head into tonight’s tournament with a fair amount of uncertainty, the Cougars travel to Douglas after winning their last four, including Friday’s marquee win of the season over Reed.
“Right now we are positive, confident,” first-year Spanish Springs coach Art Cardenas said. “We are relaxed after (the win over Reed) and I think we have pretty good momentum going into (tonight).”
While seniors Hannah Woytek and Mariah Vargas do much of the scoring for the Cougs, and draw most of the attention, Cardenas said Heather Tauchen is a large reason for his team’s success at the end of the year. Tauchen pulled down the game-winning rebound Friday.
“She doesn’t get a lot of recognition but she does a lot of the little things for us,” Cardenas said. “She is usually the one setting screens for us or making the pass to find somebody open, playing defense and doing the dirty work.”
Cardenas made his varsity coaching debut in the same Douglas gym in the Cougs’ season opener Dec. 4 – the result was a 47-20 loss. But the Cougars are undoubtedly a different team now.
In their first 21 games of the season, Spanish Springs broke the 50-point barrier four times. Now, they’ve now done it in three straight – all wins.
“(That was) the first game, new coach, new system. The (offensive) system. They’ve got it down a lot better,” Cardenas said.
Despite the team finding its rhythm on the offensive side, Cardenas said it is his team’s defensive effort that will shape its playoff run.
“Everything that we do starts with defense, rebounding and boxing out,” the Cougars’ coach said. “That was the emphasis going into (the game against Reed) and that’s been the emphasis throughout the season. The last couple games we really didn’t do a good job playing defense, didn’t do a good job boxing out and I felt we did a much, much better job of that (Friday) … That’s it right there. Your defense is going to dictate a lot of stuff for you.”
Because the Cougs’ lone regular-season meeting with the Tigers was more than two months ago, Cardenas said he did not look at the 47-20 loss while preparing. Instead, he watched more recent tape on his quarterfinal foe.
“I think we threw that game out,” Cardenas said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well. We didn’t defend well and Douglas had a lot to do with that. They were aggressive and they were physical. We have to match that.”
If the Cougs pull out the road playoff win tonight, they will play the winner of Carson (SL No. 4) and Reno (HDL No. 1) on their home floor on Thursday.