Playing on their home floor the Cougars were unable to score on their 150-second possession to start the contest and saw their season come to a close, falling 54-27 to the defending state champs.
“The bottom line you just want to make sure you win. This was the big game because now we are guaranteed a spot in the state tournament so we get the opportunity to defend our state championship regardless,” Reno coach Shane Foster said. “This was a nervous game for me although I felt confident in our kids. This was a nervous game.”
Because the state tournament is played in the North this year – at Lawlor Events Center – advancing to the North final earns a bid into the state tourney.
Reno (27-1) used its monstrous size, led be senior post Morgan McGwire and her sophomore sister, Morgan, to dominate the undersized Cougars in the paint. Morgan is listed at 6-1 while her younger sister towers over the floor at 6-4.
Both sisters scored 14 points in the semifinal win. Shalen Shaw joined the McGwire’s in double digits, finishing with 10.
“It’s tough. I talk to the girls and they are doing their boxing out and stuff. They’re big, but they’re not just big, they’re good ball players,” first-year Spanish Springs coach Art Cardenas said of the McGwire’s. “They know how get around screens and post (up) so that makes it even tougher.”
Taking advantage of the size difference, Reno scored 43 of its 54 points in the paint or at the charity stripe.
“They (Reno) are a good team, they have three (NCAA Div. I players),” Cardenas said. “They’re big. They’re well coached so it was a tough matchup. My girls competed and gave it their all.”
Cardenas said the plan was to slow the game down (i.e. the first possession) but his group fell behind too quickly and hand to pick the pace up to try to put points on the board.
Spanish Springs tailed 13-1 after the first eight minutes and did not get its first field goal of the night until Adrianna Pennington (six points) sunk a fast-break layup with 6:40 left in the second quarter. Senior point guard Hannah Woytek found Pennington from half-court for the assist.
Woytek, who almost single-handedly carried her team to a quarterfinal upset at Douglas on Tuesday, led the Cougars with 12 points.
“I thought we did a really good job of trying to stay in front of her (Woytek)… She is a great player and a great kid,” Foster said. “Our kids, they play a lot of ball with her so they’re sitting her saying ‘this is sad, this is Hannah’s last game’ with 30 seconds to go. So there is a lot of respect we have for their team and for Hannah.”
Pennington’s fast-break bucket left the Cougs down 17-3 to trigger a mini 8-5 run over the next 3:21 to draw within 22-9 but the Huskies closed the half with a 7-2 burst to take a 29-11 at the half.
Reno started the third quarter on a 9-0 run before Woytek scored Spanish Springs' first basket of the half with a fast-break layup with 3:05 left in the period.
The defending state champs led 42-16 through three quarters before edging SSHS 12-11 in the final period, putting an end to Spanish Springs’ season.
Despite the big season-ending loss, the Cougars had one of the better season’s in program history finishing 19-8, with a playoff win, while learning a new system in Cardenas’ first year.
“Yeah definitely (it’s too early to reflect on the season). Especially after the game but you know, we had a good season, great group of girls and I love them all,” Cardenas said. “I’m just happy the way things went. We did good.”
Reno now turns its attention to Bishop Manogue (Sierra League champion) in the North title game Saturday at Spanish Springs. Both teams have a spot in the state tournament secured.
“It’s nice that we have a spot (in state) but we are going to go out and put our best foot forward and try to win a regional championship,” Foster said. “We will watch film tomorrow at lunch and see what happens.”