It was a spirited bunch, but many of its cheers made little sense due to the discrepancy on the scoreboard.
While the Elko crowd might have been louder than the home team’s at the Brickhouse Friday night during a Northern 3A regional battle, the Railroaders won where it mattered — on the court.
Sparks kept its hopes of repeating as 3A state champs alive by dispatching the visiting Indians 47-44.
The Railroaders hadn’t dealt with such a loud visiting crowd this year, but they remained composed.
“I was hoping for snow as much as I could, but they traveled well. They always do,” Sparks boys basketball coach Mike Jones said of Elko’s fans. “Elko was everything we thought they were. They’re the best defensive team we’ve played this year. They really get after you. Luckily we hit enough shots. We prepared well for them.”
Sparks doubled up on Elko’s score in the first quarter when Xavier Rodriguez knocked down a 3-pointer, making it a 14-7 ball game with 1:35 left in the first.
That seven-point margin stayed intact heading into the second quarter as both teams traded a basket in the final minute of the first, so Sparks took a 16-9 edge.
The Maroon and Gold scored the first three points of the second quarter, building a double-digit lead for the first time, 19-9.
Elko responded with five unanswered on a George Mandity trey from the wing and a drive and layup by leading-scorer Rashaun Marin. That made the score 19-14 with 5:24 left in the first half. Marin paced the Indians with 18 points as the only player from his team in double figures.
Then Sparks came back with a 5-0 run of its own thanks to an Erik Garcia bucket off the glass down low and a Martin Jordan 3-pointer, pushing the gap back up to 10, 24-14. Jordan was on fire in the first half, scoring 14 of his game-high 20 points before the intermission.
The Indians cut the deficit back down to five with another 5-0 spurt. This time Marin took it upon himself to get Elko within striking distance. The fleet-footed guard got fouled on a drive and converted both free throws and then swished a trey from way downtown, leaving Sparks with only a 24-19 lead with 2:46 to go before the break.
However, Sparks got two buckets in the last 34 seconds of the second quarter, including a Brian Morgan jumper from the left elbow at the buzzer to take a 28-19 lead into the locker room.
That momentum didn’t carry into the second half. The Ruby Mountain League’s runner-up tallied the first seven points of the second half and made a game of it.
In the first three minutes of the third quarter, the Indians got to within two points, 28-26. Jordan ended Elko’s run before it could tie the game by knocking down a jumper.
After going on a four-and-a-half minute drought to start the third quarter, Sparks owned the final 3:30. Only a Marin step-back 3-pointer prevented the Railroaders from closing out the third period with four straight baskets. Instead, the hosts had to settle for a 36-29 edge going into the final eight minutes of action.
Every time Elko got fouled while making a bucket in the fourth quarter, the crowd erupted and the Indians let out a war cry in what felt like potential momentum shifters. But all three times Elko went to the line to convert a 3-point play, it came away empty handed.
And each time the Indians came way empty handed, Sparks came right back and answered to keep the same seven-point margin. Rodriguez had two of those baskets for the Railroaders, while Henry Banks had one, making the scoreboard read 42-35 with 4:28 left in the game.
The eastern Nevada school didn’t do itself any favors at the charity stripe in the last eight minutes, missing all four of its free-throw attempts and going 6-for-14 in the game.
Elko was still able to close the margin to four points with 1:37 to go in the game with consecutive scores.
After the Indians fouled twice to get closer to putting Sparks into the bonus situation, Jordan drove baseline and fed a pass to Darius Devine for an easy two, increasing the lead to 47-41 with 52 seconds on the clock.
Coming out of a timeout by Elko, Marin drained a 3-pointer from the wing, making it a one-possession game.
It got a little scary for the Railroader faithful as the Railroaders turned the ball over 10 seconds later. Luckily, the Indians were called for an illegal screen and gave the ball right back.
Morgan was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass with 14.6 seconds to go. However, he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation and it breathed life into Elko.
The Indians brought the ball up the court looking for a game-tying three-ball. Marin let one fly with 6 seconds left but it bounced off the rim. Elko got an offensive board which was kicked out to Quinn Jonas in the corner, but his 3-point attempt sailed long at the buzzer and Sparks fans stormed the court.
“It’s really huge for the seniors,” Jones said. “Like I told them, they’ve tasted both sides of this. Two years ago the kids on varsity lost and last year they won. This year they proved it wasn’t just a fluke and they deserved to go back to get another chance. I’m really proud of them.”
Sparks (15-6) will play Ruby Mountain League champion Lowry in the state semifinals at 12:40 p.m. Friday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.