“I don’t know what to say,” Sparks coach Tony Shaw said. “We came out. We were ready to play and we knew what they were going to do. We shot the ball really well in the first half. The third quarter was a killer for us. We just got down and we just couldn’t recover.”
Things did initially start off strong for the Railroaders.
After the teams went back-and-forth until the Highlanders held an 8-7 lead with 4:42 left in the first quarter, Sparks began playing lockdown basketball. With a smothering defense, combined with taking care of the ball and getting good shots, Sparks went on a 13-3 run to close out the first quarter and grab a 20-11 advantage. The run was powered by guard Krystal Parker who scored 11 of the 13 in the spurt, including three treys.
The frantic pace from the first quarter was slowed in the second as both teams netted three field goals each, keeping the Railroaders’ lead at nine as the scoreboard read 26-17 going in to halftime.
“That’s the team that I envisioned us being all year,” Shaw said. “The second half is how we’ve been playing though.”
Shaw’s words held true as Incline came out of the intermission and dominated the Maroon and Gold. Forcing 13 turnovers, the Highlanders strung together a huge 21-0 run to start the third quarter, a span that lasted nearly seven minutes. The Railroaders were outscored 26-4 over the entirety of the quarter as Incline snatched its only lead since the midway point of the first quarter. The guests took a 43-30 lead into the final quarter.
Sparks went scoreless from the point of its last bucket of the second quarter at the 4:46 mark till there was 1:10 remaining in the third.
After Sparks and Incline (7-12, 3-0) traded buckets in the first two minutes of the final quarter, neither scored again until there was just under two minutes remaining, leaving no time for the Railroaders to attempt a comeback of their own.
The lone highlight of the evening for Sparks was Parker, who hit five buckets from downtown to lead the Railroader effort by notching over half of the team’s points. She finished with 23 points on the night, despite being chased and double-teamed throughout much of the game.
“We ride her,” Shaw said. “That is a good thing, but in a sense everybody knows she’s getting the ball. I told the girls that it gives everybody an opportunity to step up and score. Everybody else has an opportunity to score, not just her. With the attention on her, we have some good shots, but then we take some horrible shots.”
Incline forward Kerrie Tonking was the only Highlander to record double-digits in points, tallying 11. Every Incline player chipped into the victory, with each player scoring at least three points.
The dramatic turn in the game’s course left Shaw searching for solutions.
“I guess it’s just a lack of focus,” Shaw said. “A lack of focus and a lack of desire. It’s not like we’re out of shape. We don’t have the ability to stay focused. I told them at halftime, ‘We have 16 minutes.’ Everything was going according to plan. We had 16 minutes, and we couldn’t sustain that 16 minutes. There’s no amount of yelling you can do. You end up pleading. At some point, they have to want to do it. They know what to do, but I don’t know why they don’t.”
Sparks (3-9, 1-3) will try to get back on track when it travels to Mount Rose League-leading Truckee today at 6 p.m.