The Railroaders made sure there wasn’t anything of the sort when the two teams met in the rematch Tuesday night.
Sparks took the lead late in the first quarter and never relinquished it, taking down Fernley 53-44 in a first-round D-IA Northern Region boys basketball playoff clash at the Brickhouse.
It was a one-possession game throughout most of the first quarter until Sparks senior Keiffer Putman knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner, which ignited a 7-0 SHS spurt late in the first.
Putman’s second trey of the quarter broke a 9-9 deadlock. Bobby Brown followed with a putback at the 1:41 mark of the first, pushing the Railroaders’ lead to 14-9. Putman capped the spurt with a bucket down low, giving the home team a 16-9 advantage with 58 seconds left in the opening period.
With 6 seconds to go in the first, Fernley senior captain Tim Klotz dropped in a shot from short range, cutting Sparks’ lead down to 16-11.
Fernley kept the momentum going into the second quarter, making the first two baskets. However, the Vaqueros couldn’t get closer than 16-15.
The visitors then watched as the Maroon and Gold went up by double digits, following a string of nine unanswered points. Back-to-back buckets by Bobby Brown under the hoop on in-bounds plays left Sparks with a 25-15 edge with 2:05 to go in the first half.
Fernley made one more shot before the break, but was outscored 9-6 in the low-scoring second quarter as Sparks held a 25-17 lead after one half of play.
The No. 3 seeded Railroaders extended their lead to 29-17 out of the intermission on back-to-back power moves down low by D.J. Devine.
The Vaqueros threw a scare into the hosts past the midway point of the third.
After Brown sank a free throw to make it a 34-23 ballgame with 3:13 on the third-quarter clock, Kevin Montgomery ripped the twine on a 3-pointer and 17 seconds later, made two free throws for five straight points.
Sparks answered with four points, pushing the gap to 38-28.
But another 5-0 run by one of its players left Fernley trailing 38-33 with 15 seconds to play in the third quarter. Dakota Woodward swished a 3-pointer and then took it to the hoop with a baseline drive for a layup.
After a Putman shot was blocked out of bounds with 2.6 seconds on the clock, Sparks ran the same in-bounds play that worked twice in the second quarter and again Brown got a basket to go. The buzzer-beater gave the Railroaders a 40-33 advantage heading into the final eight minutes of action.
It didn’t look like Fernley would get closer than five points the rest of the way. After Klotz weaved his way through traffic for a layup that cut the deficit to 44-39 with 4:47 to play, Brown hit an off-balance shot off the glass and Devine scored, increasing the lead to 48-39.
But the Vaqueros didn’t go away. Edwin Salse made two free throws and Kevin Montgomery let it rain a three-ball, bringing the Lyon County school to within four, 48-44. The score never got closer as Fernley didn’t score during the last 2:57 of the game.
“We just constantly stepped up to their runs. I think they had three or four runs in the second half,” Sparks boys basketball coach Dan Schreiber said. “There was a point where we had a dry spell in the third where we didn’t hit that many shots. We stayed composed enough where defensively we came back and got some stops and then converted.”
A Devine basket down low with just over two minutes to play padded the lead back up to six, 50-44.
Fernley would eventually play the foul game, but didn’t start that strategy until there were 43 seconds remaining in the contest. That was also only the sixth team foul. With 40.6 seconds on the clock, Putman was fouled and converted both ends of a 1-and-1 situation.
The Vaqueros needed points and quickly, but they turned over the ball with 19 seconds left and without taking a shot. A free throw by Putman accounted for the final nine-point margin.
“It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen. Both coaches knew this was going to be a close game,” Schreiber said. “There shouldn’t be any blowouts at this point of the season. Everyone in the tournament is supposed to be here. No one wants to go home.”
Klotz led all scorers with 17 points, while Montgomergy added 10.
Putman paced the Railroaders with 14 points. Brown and Devine added 13 and 11 points respectively.
Sparks has now run its winning streak to 13 games, but will get its stiffest test in second-seeded Lowry, a 70-32 winner over Truckee in the quarterfinals. The Buckaroos beat Sparks 53-30 in mid-December.
Tip-off for the semifinal game is at 4:40 p.m. Friday at Wooster High.
“It’s kind of exciting. They got us here early in the season. We’re playing a lot different and a lot better,” Schreiber said. “These kids are amped. It’s like what we talked about on December 15th. We talked about that game and how he want them in the playoffs. We want a shot. We want to play the best teams. It should be down to Lowry and Elko and whoever else.”