The Railroaders’ losses mounted up and left the Sparks boys sitting home to watch the playoffs for the first time since they limped to a 5-21 record in the 2006-07 season. Prior to the SHS crew’s recently completed season, and after its 06-07 struggles, Sparks had been to the playoffs six straight times, won a state title in 2010 and even competed for at least a league championship into the final weekend of regular season play each of the last six years.
In spite of losses racking up, third-year Sparks coach Dan Schreiber heaped praise on his diminutive squad.
“I’m just proud of these kids,” Schreiber said Friday after his team’s season-ending upset win at Fallon. “They fought all year long and took a lot of hits for their size. You can quote me on this, I don’t care, I’ll take some hits on this, but size does not matter. It just doesn’t. I think this group of kids shows it. They played a varsity schedule and they just left it on the floor.”
While the final record is nothing to write home about, Sparks found some bright spots toward the end of its winter campaign. After starting the season 1-14, Sparks won 3 of its five games and one of the two late losses was a 60-58 defeat at Spring Creek after the Spartans got a buzzer beating shot to fall and steal a win on Feb. 8.
The late-season success prompted Schreiber to point out his team was catching up with the rest of the league, but essentially that there was not enough time left in the season to make a run a postseason berth.
“Unfortunately, we’re about threes weeks behind,” Schreiber said. “Competing is something we’ve talked about every day. We just don’t quit. It’s too easy to quit when you’re down. These kids have found themselves time and again in positions where they’re down 16-to-18 points and then all of a sudden it’s a one possession game. It’s helped our confidence and we’re really starting to play well.”
Sparks High’s late-season resurgence started with a 49-32 home win over Fernley on Feb. 1. The Railroaders grabbed a 13-7 lead after one period and never looked back en route to the 17-point triumph. Fernley had prevailed at FHS for a 43-42 victory over the Railroaders on Jan. 4.
“It’s another game early on we lost at their place. Just to redeem ourselves (with) really a decisive win is great. We won all four quarters and that’s what we talked about at halftime, win all four quarters,” Schreiber said after the win. “It is just really to get that one behind us and kind of fix what we left on the court at their place.”
Sparks hosted DI-A North foe Elko on Jan. 10. The Indians are one of the best teams in northern Nevada, regardless of classification. The EHS cagers have multiple decisive double-digit wins over large schools this winter. The final score showed Elko grabbing a 69-44 romp but Sparks played Elko to single digit contest for three quarters before the visiting Indians pulled away with a fourth-quarter surge. Schreiber thinks that game helped show his team it could still compete with anyone left on its schedule.
“I think we competed until about two minutes into the fourth quarter,” Schreiber said. “And then I thought the wear and tear of banging on their bigger bodies broke us down. Plus they go deeper into their bench, playing a lot of guys a lot of minutes ...
“I think the big thing, I think we go all the way back to that home game against Elko and we were close, within nine with six minutes to go in the game. Elko comes into the game with this mystique and here we are, the David and Goliath situation, and we’re sitting there hovering around a nine-point deficit and it’s like ‘well we can actually play this game.’ I think a lot of confidence grew from that game.”
Nine of the Railroaders’ 19 losses were by 10 or fewer points, eight were by seven or fewer and twice the Sparks club was saddled with a one-point defeat. Sparks played seven non-league games before getting into its DI-A North League schedule and six of those were against larger Nevada or California schools.
While the tough preseason schedule may not have resulted in a lot of league wins, it still may have played a big part in the local school’s season-long progression. Schreiber may have been a soothsayer when he uttered the following words the first of the season.
“From a coaching standpoint, it’s good (playing big schools) because these better teams exploit our weaknesses,” he said. “So we know what we need to work on in practice to be better when we get late into February.”
Senior shooting guard Isaiah Campbell led the Sparks stat sheet on most nights. He was the lone Railroaders to average double digits in scoring throughout the season, pouring in 16.9 points per outing. Kevin Borja, a junior led the Railroaders in rebounding, pulling down 5.3 a contest.