But it was one player who hadn’t scored all night that delivered the final blow to the Sparks boys basketball team in Mount Rose League action Thursday night.
Sophomore Orin Porter Jr. calmly stepped up to the charity stripe with 6.8 seconds left on the clock and stroked two free throws without touching the rim to lift Incline to a 51-50 road victory.
Still, the Railroaders had one last shot to pull off the win, but Keiffer Putman’s three-point shot at the buzzer clanked off the rim.
Sparks knew it would be in for a touch match-up with the Highlanders, who were coming off recent wins over fellow Mount Rose League contenders South Tahoe and Truckee.
The Railroaders got exactly that and then some.
“For the past 15 years, that’s how most of them have ended. We had two, maybe three triple overtime games. It’s kind of an unnatural rivalry, but it is there, and it just makes it worse by me being here now,” said Sparks boys basketball coach Dan Schreiber, who coached at Incline from 1997-2010. “That was a lot of emotion we saw early on. That’s how we dug ourselves such a big hole. I told the kids before the game we were going to see that. They wanted to come out and destroy their old coach.”
Incline, which starts five seniors, took it to Sparks in the first quarter.
The Railroaders earned their points early in the game, taking a 5-2 lead on a Brian Morgan 3-pointer after the hosts grabbed five offensive boards on that possession. However, the Highlanders made it look easy by efficiently scoring almost at will in the paint. Six of the Highlanders’ eight first-quarter field goals came within eight feet of the hoop.
After Sparks took a three-point lead at the 6:06 mark of the first quarter, Incline held its opponent without a field goal for the rest of the quarter.
The Highlanders outscored the home team 15-1 over the final six minutes of the opening period, led by Murray’s nine points during that spurt. He finished with 13 on the night.
Incline led 17-6 at the end of the first quarter and went up 19-6 in the opening minute of the second. After an Erik Garcia free throw ended the Highlanders’ 9-0 run, Morgan stopped his team’s nearly eight-minute drought from the field with a pull-up jumper a minute and a half into the second quarter.
The shooting touch became contagious. Garcia scored down low and then knocked down a baseline jumper, capping a string of seven straight points by Sparks that cut the deficit to 19-13 with 5:05 to play in the first half.
The Railroaders answered a pair of buckets by the Highlanders with treys from Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez, closing the gap to 23-19.
Sparks got even closer as a layup by Garcia with 4 seconds on the clock sent the home team into the locker room trailing 24-21. Garcia scored 10 of Sparks’ 15 second-quarter points.
“We just had to survive that wave. I told the kids before the game we were going to see a 10- or 15-point wave, and it‘s just going to be on emotion,” Schreiber said. “Handle that and we’ll come back possession by possession. That’s what happened. It came down to the last possession.”
The Maroon and Gold carried its momentum from the end of the first half into the second.
Putman drained a 3-pointer to knot the game at 24-24 and then Rodriguez scored on a follow of his own miss, giving Sparks a 26-24 edge, a minute and a half into the third.
That was also the last time the Railroaders would lead until it was 50-49, after Wright hit two shots from behind the arc in the same spot, thrusting the Highlanders into a four-point advantage. Wright swiped a steal and went coast to coast for a layup and a 32-26 Incline cushion, concluding his own 8-0 streak. Wright scored 10 of his team-high 15 points after the break.
A minute and a half later, the Highlanders increased the gap to double digits, 38-28, thanks to a 6-0 run that ended with just under two minutes to go in the quarter.
Putman ended the Railroaders’ scoring in the third by ripping the twine on a 3-pointer, which followed a bucket by Morgan and two free throws by Rodriguez. The 7-0 rally made it a 38-35 game. Incline scored the final points of the third to take a 40-35 edge into last eight minutes of the game.
Murray sank a fading baseline jumper to start the fourth, giving Incline a 42-35 lead, but Rodriguez retaliated with a 3-pointer and two foul shots, taking the deficit back down to two, 42-40. Incline was ahead by six, 48-42, with 2:30 remaining in the game.
Morgan cut the gap in half with a three-ball for a 48-45 score.
Trailing 49-45, the Railroaders lucked out when a pass went through the hands of Gehring, starting a fast break for the home team. Putman took a circus shot while trying to draw contact. A no-call allowed Garcia to grab the offensive rebound a put in a shot while he was fouled. He converted the three-point play, leaving the scoreboard reading 49-48 in favor of the Green and Gold.
Incline went down the floor and tried to build on its lead. Porter Jr. saw an open baseline and drove to the hoop, but his reverse layup spun off the rim.
Rodriguez put the Railroaders ahead 50-49 with 30 seconds on the clock on his 15th point of the second half for a game-high 19 points. That set up Porter Jr.’s heroics after he was fouled on his runner.
Garcia added 15 and Morgan had 10 in the losing cause, joining Rodriguez as the only starters to score. Only four Railroaders found the scoring column.
Gehring contributed 11 points for Incline, which improves to 17-4 overall and 4-0 in league. Sparks (13-5, 2-2 in league) goes to Truckee tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“It was a good learning experience. We need some close games. We see them again next week on Tuesday. We’ve got to flip our hats and play Truckee tomorrow,” Schreiber said.