RENO—There will not be a league title defense for the Spanish Springs boys.
After winning the first league title in program history last winter, the Cougars were eliminated from title contention with a 60-59 loss at McQueen on Friday night.
Spanish Springs would have clinched at least the High Desert League No. 2 seed with a win, but instead dropped into a tie with McQueen for second place at 10-4 with just two games remaining.
“We have season goals and one of the season goals was to win to league. Okay, so that’s gone,” Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. “A second-tier goal is to host a home playoff game. It’s attainable but the biggest thing is we know we’re in … We can’t let this define us.”
Trailing 60-56 with 12 seconds left after McQueen’s Jaylan Franklin missed the second free throw (he hit the first), the Cougars, out of timeouts, pushed the ball up the court and found Jalen Townsell in the corner.
The sophomore threw up a contested shot beyond the arc and somehow hit nylon—it was just Spanish Springs’ second three of the night. The ball went through the net with six seconds left, but because Spanish Springs was out of timeouts, McQueen didn’t need to inbound the ball. The emotional contest ended with both teams standing around, watching the final seconds melt away.
The frustrating finish was symbolic of Spanish Springs’ entire night. The Cougs hit just 11-of-23 free throws (48 percent). Marcus Loadholt, likely the Player of the Year, was held to just six points in the first three quarters before finishing with 16. And Josh Prizina barely saw the ball in the second half after scoring 12 in the first half. He finished with 14.
“We just talked about it as coaches, Josh had a great first half. We were feeding him,” Penney said. “If I have to ask the question, ‘did Josh get any post touches in the second half?’ I guess that answers the question. That lies on us as a staff.”
The Lancers opened the second half on a 15-2 run to grab a comfortable 42-29 lead midway through the third after a Franklin triple. He split the high-scoring honors with his 6-10 post, Octavian Corley. Both finished with 20 points.
The Cougs answered right back with an 18-4 run of their own to take their first lead of the second half, 47-46, with 4:53 left. Justus Eaglesmith sunk a pair of free throws, a rarity for both teams on Friday night, to push the guests in front. Eaglesmith finished with 10 points off the bench.
“He did (give big minutes) on both ends, offensively and defensively,” Penney said of Eaglesmith. “It was a big role for him tonight … That’s good for us moving forward as well.”
The lead was short-lived as the Lancers put back misses on their next two possessions and led the rest of the way.
Spanish Springs was within a point three times in the final two minutes but never managed to retake control.
“Losses at this time, aren’t necessarily that bad,” Penney said. “Our kids are resilient. And they’re tough. And they’re going to get better. And they’re going to take it personally.”
Franklin buried a triple from the corner at the first-half buzzer to leave the game knotted at 27 at the break.
Prizina finished a traditional three-point play with two minutes earlier to give the Cougs a 25-20 edge—the biggest lead of the half for either team—before the Lancers closed on a 7-2 spurt.
The Lancers led 15-12 after the first quarter before the Cougs scored seven of the first eight points of the second quarter to grab a 19-16 lead. Big man Ryan Anderson ended the run with a rare triple from the top of the key.
The Cougs will play their final regular season home game on Tuesday night at home against North Valleys before putting the regular season to bed on Friday night at Reed.
Because they now find themselves on the wrong end of the tiebreaker, the Cougars will likely need to win their final two games and root for Reno to beat McQueen next Friday, to finish second.