The SSHS upset bid fell about three points and three minutes short in what proved to be the Cougars’ season finale. The final result was a 68-54 Hug win in High Desert League boys prep basketball.
Hug (20-3, 14-2), which had already clinched the HDL’s regular season title, takes a No. 1 seed into the first round of the Northern 4A tournament. It will host Sierra League No. 4 seed Bishop Manogue Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Spanish Springs, which needed to beat Hug and see Reno knock off McQueen, got the needed help from the RHS crew but could not handle its end of the deal. The loss leaves Spanish Springs out of the postseason for the second time in three years.
The Cougars gave the Hawks all they could handle for 29 of the 32 minutes Friday, but their upset bid fell short in crunchtime.
Spanish Springs got a bucket from Brandon Delong with 3:33 to go in the game and trimmed Hug’s lead to 53-50, but that’s when the wheels fell off the visitors’ wagon.
Hug ripped off the next eight points and finished the game on a 15-4 run. The Hawks caught fire in the end, draining a trio of treys in the late outburst.
“We had fought back into the game and were scrambling, trying to put some pressure on them,” Spanish Springs assistant coach John Rogers said. “We sat back in a 2-3 zone but were still trying to trap out of it. We were getting some success for a while, but then when you do that, sometimes guys get open and you just have to hope they miss.
“Hug didn’t miss late in the game. It’s hard to make a comeback when you’re scrambling like you have to do and then they knock down shots.”
Rogers handled the coaching chores for Spanish Springs Friday while head coach Kyle Penney was absent due to a family emergency.
Spanish Springs (13-12, 8-8) led by two at halftime, 26-24. Its lead was still two, 35-33, after a TJ McCauley runner with 2:32 left in the third period. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Hug answered with a 10-0 run to close out the third and forged ahead 43-35 at the conclusion of the third period.
Delong, who was saddled with foul trouble and missed nearly all of the third quarter after picking up his fourth personal on the first possession of the period, re-entered the game to start the fourth quarter and got hot quickly. He scored 11 of the Cougars’ first 15 points in the fourth quarter. His heroics helped the Cougars get to within 53-50, but only set the stage for Hug’s crunchtime encore.
Delong finished with a team-high 20 points, 14 of those came in the final quarter. McCauley was the only other SSHS player to finish in double figures. He had 11 points.
Despite its late struggles, Spanish Springs could not have gotten off to a much better start. The guests scored the first 10 points of the game. Hug did not manage to get on the scoreboard until the clock showed 1:48 left in the initial period.
“We were passive and not being aggressive early,” Hug coach Charles Walker said. “They came out and threw the first punch. We were on our heels. They came out tough and we knew they would. We were reeling for the first quarter and a half.”
A Brian Smith basket with 11 seconds remaining in the first, closed the scoring on the first eight minutes of action and left the Cougars grasping a 14-4 advantage.
“We went inside to the post early on,” Rogers said. “We went inside-out and our guards did a good job catching and shooting. Our post players did a good job sealing and finishing. We didn’t get away from that. Our kids just stopped executing it. Give Hug credit. They started taking away our high post and that took us out of our rhythm. Then our guards were playing back and forth, going east and west instead of attacking north and south.”
Spanish Springs pushed its lead to 11, 23-12, midway through the second quarter. That’s when the Hawks began to show some signs of life and started to claw their way back into contention.
The hosts outscored Spanish Springs 12-2 in the last four minutes before halftime, but still trailed by a bucket, accounting for the 26-24 halftime score.
“That run started with our defense,” Walker said. “We try to get out in the passing lanes. We want to play up and down. We got some steals there and were able to go up and down. We played it more at our pace and got some open looks.”
Hug’s junior center, Sam Williams was a wrecking crew. The Cougars had no answer for the Hawks’ athletic post. He finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
“We knew they were going to try to spread us out,” Rogers said. “They didn’t do it a whole lot in the first half but then in the second half, they did it big time to try and isolate Sam in space. He’s a great player, quick and physically strong. And he had our number tonight.
“He’s hard to double down against because they have such quick guards. If you do double down, by the time you get back to help, their guards are already by you. So we asked a lot of our posts defensively tonight. I thought Brian (Smith), Austin (Damoth) and TJ (McCauley) did a great job contesting shots in the first half and then Hug ran us out of gas.”
Williams was not alone on the offensive end. He got some help from his Hawks teammates. Jhalil Rascom and Robin Dhatt chipped in 17 and 14 points to the HHS winning cause.