One night after having a hard time missing the bottom of the net in a semifinal blowout of Galena, the Cougars (18-11) could not buy a bucket and fell in Saturday’s DI North title game, in their own gym, to Reno (19-9), 45-42.
“It’s disappointing obviously,” Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. “You get to this game and you lose and, you know, it’s emotionally crushing. You feel bad because our kids are good kids and they do things the right way. You just feel bad for them because you want them to have the best of everything. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
The Law of Averages proved to be the Cougars’ undoing in the title game loss, connecting on just 3-of-18 shots from deep. Spanish Springs hit 13-of-16 shots from behind the arc in Friday’s romp over Galena.
The Cougs’ 15th, and final, miss from deep sealed their fate. Trailing by three with 12.5 seconds left and the ball, the Cougars scrambled on the offensive end before Kenny Meyer was forced to launch a 27-foot desperation heave that came up short as time expired.
“It’s basketball. Let’s not kid ourselves, 13-of-16, we haven’t done that once all season. That was it,” Penney said. “We got a lot of good looks tonight and we didn’t finish them. We just didn’t. Credit Reno, they deserve it.”
While his team cut down the net, Reno coach Matt Ochs was nearly at a loss for words.
“It’s indescribable, really,” Ochs said between a constant stream of hugs from the Reno faithful.
The Huskies finished the regular season as the No. 3 seed in the High Desert League, behind Reed (HDL champ) and Spanish Springs before topping Damonte Ranch (Sierra League No. 2) in the quarterfinals, Reed in the semifinals and Spanish Springs Saturday.
“It’s just a great group of kids buying in and coming together at exactly the right time, Ochs said. "We had to beat three really good teams to get here and I couldn’t be happier for these guys and more proud of them.”
Spanish Springs trailed between two and four points the entire fourth quarter but drew within 43-42 with 13.6 seconds left after Hunter Fralick tipped in a missed three-point try. Fralick, who played more a facilitating role all season, had his second consecutive strong offensive outing, leading the Cougars with 12 points.
The Cougars then sent Reno senior Kyle Mahaffey to the free-throw line. Not in the double bonus, Mahaffey was left shooting 1-and-1 and he calmly drilled both, with the Spanish Springs student section going ballistic. The foul shots put his squad up three with 12.5 seconds left – setting up Spanish Springs’ final possession.
Mahaffey scored 13 points for the Huskies. His RHS teammate, Connor Bush, led all scorers with 14.
“He (Mahaffey) is our senior leader and he’s been doing it all year for us,” Ochs said. “I’m just happy he stepped up in a big moment and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Spanish Springs trailed but as much as eight, 22-14, with 1:36 left in the first half. The hosts whittled the gap to 22-17 at the break before jumping in front with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
Down 26-23, Kenny Meyer jumped in front of a Mahaffey pass before getting hacked at the rim by the Reno senior who was called for an intentional foul. Meyer sunk both ensuing free throws, followed by a Jacob White bucket in the paint to push the Purple in front by one.
Meyer extended the gap to four with 3:27 left in the third with a triple only for Reno's Jakob Rolling to answer with a 3, 13 seconds later.
Meyer, a North Player-of-the-Year candidate, had a relatively quiet night, finishing with 11 points. The Cougars' senior averages 20 points per outing.
Reno forced three Cougar turnovers on their final three possessions of the third period, triggering an 8-0 run to push the Huskies back in front, 37-32, going into the final eight minutes.
“It’s tough. We just didn’t handle the pressure very well, just man-on-man pressure,” Penney said. “We just lost our focus, our edge, a little bit and it turns into leak outs for them and momentum then shifted really fast.”
The Cougars had two possessions in the final 90 seconds, trailing 42-40 but were unable to draw even.
Reno now plays perennial state power Bishop Gorman – the Sunset Region champion and two-time defending state champion – in the first round of the state tournament, Thursday, at 8 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center.
Spanish Springs will play Canyon Springs (26-4), the Sunrise Region champion, Thursday at 4:40 p.m.
Penney said he did not see a small victory in avoiding the Gaels in the first round.
“There is no silver lining. Who do I want to play? Well I want to be the No. 1 seed. I don’t care who we play,” Penney said. “You want to win the North Region championship every chance you get. You never want to say ‘oh, maybe we get the lesser of two evils.’ Two Vegas schools are what we all know. They’re two, very good Vegas schools. It’s about competing and we need to make sure we come out to compete.”