After watching a halftime lead evaporate, Spanish Springs rallied in the fourth period to pull out a 46-41 quarterfinal victory on its home floor in the High Sierra Winter Classic.
“It was good, a good confidence builder for the kids,” Spanish Springs coach Christine Eckles said. “It shows they have a lot of heart. They did some things we wanted them to do in the fourth quarter and it made them successful. The girls played well in the fourth quarter.”
After a lackluster first half, Spanish Springs still took a 19-14 lead into the locker room at the break. Ari James scored the first bucket of the third period to push Spanish Springs ahead, 21-14, 30 seconds into the quarter.
Carson answered with 10 unanswered points to forge ahead 24-21. The Senators weren’t done. They scored seven of the next nine points to grab a 31-23 edge, the largest lead either hoops squad enjoyed on the night.
The Senators’ explosion served as a wake-up call for Spanish Springs. The Cougars got a 3-pointer from freshman Sam Owens and a driving layup in the waning seconds of the third period by freshman Riley Holladay to get within three, 31-28.
Carson, which played predominantly man-to-man defense in the first half, stymied Spanish Springs for much of the third period by switching to a zone scheme. However, the Cougars eventually adapted and posted 23 points in the final nine minutes of the tournament tilt.
“They went to the zone and we struggled a little bit,” Eckles said. “We weren’t successful running our zone offense. We couldn’t get good shots and then when things didn’t go well offensively, that hurt us and kept us from being successful on defense.”
Spanish Springs trailed 37-33 early in the fourth quarter when it took control for good. The Cougars reeled off a 10-0 outburst of their own and never trailed again. A Kelly Hernandez layup knotted the game at 37-37 and a driving runner in the lane minutes later by Owens propelled the Cougars to a 43-37 lead.
Carson got a free throw and then Senators all-league guard Gina Bianchi banked in a 3-pointer, with a hand in her face, to trim the Spanish Springs lead to two, 43-41, with 1:46 remaining in the game.
That’s as good as it got for Carson in crunch time. Owens answered with her fourth 3-pointer of the game for Spanish Springs and Carson could not muster another point down the stretch.
Owens, playing in just the seventh game of her varsity tenure, turned in 16 points, the highest total of her brief prep career. Fourteen of those came in the second half. Owens was the lone Cougar to score in double digits. James and Kelly Hernandez both chipped in eight points for Spanish Springs.
“Sam was huge. She played really big,” Eckles said. “She had a stretch where she pretty much took over the game. She hit back-to-back threes and made good decisions with the ball. That took pressure off Ari, Kelly and the other kids. She did something she’s capable of doing. She’s a good player, a good shooter. We needed somebody to step up at that time and she did. It helped turn the game for us.”
The Cougars helped their cause by forcing 35 Carson turnovers. In addition, the SSHS defensive tandem of James and Jessica Fralick combined to limit Bianchi, the Senators sharpshooter and leading scorer, to nine points.
“I have a lot of respect for the player Gina is,” Eckles said. “I know if you leave her open to hit shots, she’ll knock them down. I think we only gave her one really open look, in the first quarter and she made it. But other than that, we made it tough for her to score.”
Spanish Springs (6-1), a tournament co-host, has now reached the 16-team tourney’s semifinals in each of the event’s first three years. Friday night’s win was the sixth straight for the SSHS crew.
The Cougars will meet Reed in a tournament semifinal at 1:30 p.m. today and then play again in either the third-place game at 6 p.m. or the championship at 7:30 p.m.
In eastern Nevada, The Spanish Springs boys posted a 71-56 triumph over Spring Creek at the Red Lion Classic, hosted by SCHS and Elko high.
Leading 15-12 after the first period, Spanish Springs torched the Spring Creek defense for 25 points in the second quarter and grabbed a 40-29 lead at the break.
“We got to the basket really well,” Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. “We also had good spacing and hit a couple threes. We got good penetration and got to the rim.”
Spring Creek had just two field goals in the second quarter but still scored 17 points thanks to solid foul shooting.
The host Spartans got to the charity stripe a lot, knocking down 19 of 28 free throws compared to 6-of-8 for the visiting Cougars.
“It was a 15-point game, but it felt like a battle,” Penney said. “We made some mistakes defensively and committed some fouls, but it seemed like we weren’t getting those same calls on the other end. I’m so proud of the kids. We faced some adversity and overcame it.”
Thomas Perkins put up 18 points for Spanish Springs (4-1). Ryan Romine chipped in a career-high 13 and Kyle Raymond added 12 for the SSHS squad.
Spring Creek was paced by senior shooting guard David Morrell and his 22 points.
The Cougars wrap up the three-day tournament today at noon against Damonte Ranch.