Damonte Ranch executed in crunchtime while the Cougars struggled and the visiting Mustangs pulled out a 67-62 triumph in a Division I North crossover league affair at SSHS Friday night.
Spanish Springs pulled into a 62-62 deadlock after senior post Austin Damoth knocked down two free throws with 54 seconds left in the game. After a timeout, Damonte worked some time off the clock before Brett Cooper got a 10-foot jumper to fall through the twine with 17 seconds showing on the game clock.
Spanish Springs (11-6, 5-3) quickly pushed the ball back up the floor in transition, but turned it over with nine ticks to go. That left the hosts trailing 64-62 and they were forced to play the foul-and-hope game. It didn't work as Damonte Ranch held on for the key five-point road win.
The Cougars struggled to guard Damonte's top scorers. Two Mustangs accounted for 76 percent of the South Reno school's offense. Justin Bridgman scored 27 and Justin Crowley poured in 24 to pace the Damonte offense.
"Our defense was atrocious," Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. "We had a hard time guarding the ball. Fundamental things are the difference and we're taking a lot of them for granted.
"We did do some good things in our zone but we had to play so much of it, they were able to figure it out. We've got to get back to our defensive responsibilities. There's a system in place. We need the dedication and pride to do the little things."
On multiple occasions throughout the conference clash it looked as though the Cougars had taken control. Hunter Pinto dropped in a fast-break layup for the Cougars that left the hosts on top 49-40 with 1:08 remaining in the third period.
Bridgeman then hit a short jumper and converted a 3-point play in the final minute of the third for Damonte and that left the Mustangs down by just four, 49-45, heading into the final quarter. The sequence also kick started a 14-0 Damonte Ranch run that spanned into the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Another Bridgman 3-point play capped the burst that saw the Mustangs forge ahead 54-49.
Damonte extended its edge to 58-51, with 4:15 to go on the game clock, after a Crowley dunk and a Bridgman steal and break-away layup.
Spanish Springs responded with a 9-2 burst that was concluded by a driving layup in traffic by Pinto. That knotted the contest at 60-60 with 1:59, setting the stage for the crunchtime drama.
The game was close early on as well. Spanish Springs held a 16-15 advantage after one period of play. A modest 14-6 run through the initial five minutes of the second period saw the Cougars grab a 30-21 lead, following a Connor Naisbitt trey with 3:18 remaining before halftime.
It turned ugly from there for Spanish Springs. Damonte Ranch ripped off the last 10 points before the break and took a 31-30 lead into the locker room at the intermission. The Mustangs then opened the second half with the first two buckets, accounting for its first 14-0 run of the night.
Turnovers plagued Spanish Springs throughout the back-and-forth battle. The Cougars had 18 in the first half and finished with 27 in defeat.
"Those runs were obviously the difference," Penney said. "We didn't handle their on-ball pressure. They picked us clean on some 1-on-1's.
"It's no fun to lose. Winning cures a lot of things, but you're not going to get out of a funk without doing the work."
Kenny Meyer led the Cougars' offensive arsenal, scoring 24 points. TJ McCauley and Pinto chipped in 12 and 10 points respectively.
Spanish Springs will be saddled with Friday's bitter taste of defeat for a while. Due to the Washoe County School District's Finals schedule, local teams will not be in game action over the next week. The Cougars return to the hardwood for a key contest against cross-town rival Reed Jan. 18.