The first three minutes of the contest saw Whittell take a slight 7-5 advantage in the game. From there, the Railroaders took control.
Over the next eight minutes of play, which spanned into the second quarter, Sparks held the visitors to just a field goal and a three-point basket while rattling off 21 points of its own. The 21-5 run left the score at 26-12 at the 4:08 mark of the second quarter and was the turning point of the game. Whittell never held the lead again as the Sparks burst proved to build a large enough cushion for the Railroaders to hold on for the win.
At halftime, the Railroaders held a 32-22 advantage, but Whittell came out of the break on fire from beyond the arc. Four of the Warriors’ five field goals in the third quarter were from 3-point land as Whittell trimmed the deficit to 42-36 at the end of the third.
The Warriors narrowed the margin to four points to begin the fourth quarter with the scoreboard reading 44-40 with 5:42 to play, but a strong effort on the offensive glass down the stretch allowed Sparks to maintain its lead until the final buzzer.
“Most of it was just our second shots,” Sparks coach Dan Schreiber said. “We got quite a few second chances in the third and fourth quarter. We got a lot off of missed free throws, which would end up turning into a three-point play. That allowed us to keep the lead. Without those second-shot attempts, it’s a different game.”
With the score at 44-40, the Railroaders used their effort on the offensive boards to fend off the Warriors’ late rally. Off of a missed shot, Sparks senior D.J. Devine tipped the ball a number of times to himself before securing the rebound. Devine then kicked the ball out to Keiffer Putman in the corner before the ball worked its way to an open Mike Albior at the top of the arc. Albior drained the triple to give the Railroaders some breathing room. On the Warriors’ next possession, Albior made a clean swipe and score to leave the Railroaders’ advantage at 49-40 with five minutes remaining.
Whittell attempted to climb back into the contest yet again, bringing the score to 51-46, but with 1:24 on the clock Sparks closed out the win.
On Senior Night, it was only fitting that Railroader seniors led the way to victory. Putman finished with a game-high 16 points. Albior and Bobby Brown both tallied 10 points each, while Devine chipped in with eight points, eight rebounds and five steals.
Sparks (14-8, 9-2 MRL) will now turn around to face Truckee on the road today. Tip-off is set for 3:30 p.m.
“We just have to keep pushing,” Schreiber said of the season’s stretch run. “We don’t want to peak quite yet. We showed signs tonight of playing that really solid game and playing really well, but we also showed signs of not playing well. We’ll be close. Hopefully when it comes playoff time, we’ll be putting the whole package together.
“Tonight was a good game for us. I would rather have to fight for a win and play against a team that is lighting it up from the perimeter rather than a blowout a week from the playoffs.”
The Lady Railroaders also recognized their seniors on Friday night, and like their counterparts, the Maroon and Gold celebrated with a victory.
Sparks earned its second victory of the season as it cruised past the Warriors for a decisive 46-21 win, sweeping the series with Whittell.
“I saw them play with confidence in themselves and in their teammates,” Sparks coach Frank Avilla said. “They played with confidence and they also played with patience. We’ve been working real hard and making them believe and teaching them to have patience. We had a good outing. We have a lot of work to do still, but this win was good for them.”
Sparks senior Krystal Parker got the Railroaders on the right track to start the game, hitting a 3-point basket to ignite the SHS offense. From there, Sparks controlled the pace of the game as it grabbed an 11-2 lead by the end of the first quarter and never looked back.
A slow second quarter for the Railroaders allowed Whittell back into the game momentarily as the Warriors closed the gap down to 15-9 at the intermission. Unfortunately for the visitors, the six-point difference would be the smallest of the remainder of the contest.
Spearheaded again by a Parker triple, the Railroaders ripped off seven quick unanswered points to start the third quarter and grab a 22-9 edge. After Whittell netted a basket, Sparks strung together another run, this time exploding for a 13-2 spurt.
Junior guard Roxie Guadron got things going for SHS, driving through the lane and around a pair of Warrior defenders for a scoop layup. Senior Val Guerrero then stole the ensuing inbounds pass for an easy two before another Whittell turnover set up a pull-up jumper by sophomore Sara Hanson. The outburst put the Railroaders up for good with a 35-15 lead at the end of the third as SHS coasted the rest of the way to the win.
Parker led the way for the Railroaders, totaling 17 points on the evening, including five three-pointers. Hanson chipped in with 11 points while Guadron also added nine points.
Sparks (2-13, 2-6 MRL) is on the road at Truckee today for a 2 p.m. matchup.
“We just have to continue to believe in ourselves,” Avilla said. “We have to continue to realize that the game is made to be played as a team. We don’t have that many big bodies so we have to capitalize on our speed. If we can learn how to play with our speed, but also be patient and be under control, we’ll be tough to play. We still haven’t played our best, but we have a team on the floor and they’re playing their best.”