The conference clash was tied three times in the second half before the Panthers took their first lead of the night, 43-41, on a layup by Shakia Walker. The teams tied things up twice more, the last time at 45 points each. With 3:42 to go, Ari James pulled down a rebound and went coast-to-coast for Spanish Springs, giving the guests a 47-45 lead.
Neither team scored again until North Valleys’ Erica Kovich made the first of two free throws to pull her team within one. Lyndsey Anderson then made the first of two for the Cougars for a 48-46 SSHS lead. The Panthers made 2-of-4 free throws sandwiched around a jumper to score the final four points of the game and take the two-point triumph.
“I thought the officiating was questionable and that’s tough because that’s not something we can change,” Spanish Springs coach Christine Eckles said. “We’ll just come back and go back to work. There’s no other choice that we have.”
Laynie Icard had 14 points for Panthers, Walker and Monserrat Quinonez added 13 and 11 respectively.
James had a game-high 16 points with 11 rebounds. Kaylie Humprheys added 12 points, four steals and eight rebounds to the Cougars’ effort.
Spanish Springs (12-11, 3-6 High Desert League) had an explosive first quarter, jumping ahead 7-0 in the first two minutes of action. The Cougars were relentless on the boards and scrambling for loose balls while forcing turnovers to take a 17-6 lead over the host Panthers after just eight minutes of play.
“We came out and we did the things we wanted to do,” Eckles said.
Things started to go south for the Cougars in the second quarter as they succumbed to pressure, Eckles said.
A 3-pointer by Riley Holladay put the Cougars ahead 22-8. However, a pair of turnovers by Spanish Springs resulted in back-to-back baskets by the Panthers. That cut the lead to nine, 22-13, with 4:04 left on the second-quarter clock.
The Panthers went on a 9-2 run over the final three minutes of the half and trailed by just one, 25-24, heading into the break.
“In the second quarter, we didn’t handle pressure well,” Eckles said. “They put pressure on us and we turned it over. We gave them some easy baskets to get back in the game.”
Humphreys scored an early basket in the third quarter for the Cougars, giving them a much-needed momentum push. Walker downed a three for the Panthers, tying the game at 27 apiece. Tied at 29, Spanish Springs scored six straight points for a 35-29 lead.
The Panthers pulled within one again after back-to-back hoops capped by a trey from Icard. The 3-pointer left North Valleys trailing 35-34. The Cougars had another mini run to take a 40-34 lead with 13 seconds left in the third. Chelsee Nakamichi-Ohlsen made good on a last second jumper, pulling her team within four, 40-36 and setting the stage for the telltale fourth period.
The Cougars play again Friday at Elko at 7 p.m. Then they have McQueen and Reed left on the schedule to close out the season.
“Mathematically we can still get in (to the postseason) but we have to win out and get a little help,” Eckles said on her team’s playoff hopes. “The kids are heartbroken,” Eckles said. “They feel like they did the things they needed to do, but they’re also determined. They’re great kids. They’ll find a way to bounce back.”