The Spanish Springs softball team is the 2015-16 Sparks Tribune Team of the Year.
It’s not just that the Cougars were the Rail City’s only team to win a major sport state title, it’s how they did it. It was a run few outside the Cougs’ dugout saw coming.
“The way it started, it was rough. We had a lot of adversity this year,” Spanish Springs coach Jeff Davidson said after topping Rancho 2-1 in the title game one month ago at Hixson Park. “I told the girls they needed to finish every game. And they came together and finished the season on a high note.”
One of the best players on the team, Bailey Ivory, missed her senior season due to injury. She spent the season watching from the dugout on crutches. Off-the-field issues led to further roster churning. And after an 0-4 trip to Sacramento in April, Spanish Springs found itself with a lackluster 13-9 record.
The league record, however, was formidable at 8-2.
Davidson’s squad managed to win nine of its final 12 regular season games (including a 1-0 win over defending state champion, Reed) to take the No. 2 seed into the DI North regional tournament.
Symbolic of the start to the regular the season, the start to the postseason was no Picasso.
Spanish Springs trailed seventh-seeded Galena 6-4 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth – seven offensive outs from being sent to the loser’s bracket, a death wish. Regan Hubbard stepped into the box and tied the game with one swing, a two-run shot around the left field pole.
In the sixth, Courtney Huff belted a three-run shot to right center that sent the Cougs to the quarterfinals for a meeting with Reno, a team the Cougs got swept by in the regular season.
“Thank God Courtney Huff is swinging a hot bat,” Davidson said after the win.
Against the Huskies, the Cougars again found themselves down late, 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth. Then the long ball helped again.
Senior captain Kourtney Townsend blasted a three-run shot that sent the Cougars to the semifinals with a 5-3 win.
Up next? Reed.
The Cougars were no-hit over eight innings by Julia Jensen and eventually suffered a 1-0 loss after a Kenzi Goins walk off home run.
The next day, Spanish Springs didn’t need a late home run to beat Douglas, 7-4, securing a spot in the state tournament (two DI North teams went to state with state being held in Northern Nevada).
Fatigued after a long, emotional weekend, the Cougars were blanked 6-0 by the Raiders in the regional title game.
Going in to the state tournament, Spanish Springs had nearly as many losses (14) as the other three teams combined (15).
In the opener, Spanish Springs took a 4-1 lead to the bottom of the seventh against Shadow Ridge only to see the lead cut to the 4-3 and the bases were loaded with one out. Hayley Fein induced a groundout to first and the Cougs spun an unlikely 1-2-4 double play to march into the semifinals.
“I thought we did (have it won). I thought we did,” Shadow Ridge coach Julia Meyn said. “I was pretty positive we had it at the end.”
Up next? Reed. Again.
This time, the Cougs were able to string a few hits together off Jensen and senior pitcher Hayley Fein retired the last 10 batters she faced, pushing Spanish Springs into the title game with a 6-2 win.
Spanish Springs and Rancho were tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh. Then things unraveled. The entire season had been a grind. Why would it be any different at the very end?
A 6-2 loss forced the ‘if necessary’ game.
Fein allowed 10 hits but did not surrender a Rams hit with runners in scoring position. Sophomore Cami Moore delivered a two-out, pinch-hit, two-run home run. And the Cougars were crowned for the fourth time in 10 years with a 2-1 victory.
Said Fein: “It’s the best feeling ever. I can’t really explain it. It’s overwhelming.”
Team of the Year Honorable Mention
Reed football – Of all the powerful Ernie Howren teams, the 2015 bunch may have been the most talented. The Raiders won their fifth straight regional title, winning all 13 of their games, before their season ended at the hands of Bishop Gorman for the fifth-straight year. The Gaels went on to win their seventh consecutive state title.
Sparks boys soccer – Frank Avilla’s squad only dropped one regular season contest and won its second straight DI-A North regional title with a thrilling win in penalty kicks against Elko. The Railroaders fell to SECTA in the state semifinals. It was Sparks third loss to SECTA at state in four years.
Spanish Springs girls soccer – The Cougars won the High Desert League title and were a heartbreaking loss in penalty kicks to Bishop Manogue in the DI North semifinals away from the first trip to state in program history.
Reed softball – The Raiders were placed with nearly unrealistic expectations after winning the state title last spring. They were up for the challenge though, winning their fourth straight DI North title. The wheels unraveled in the state semifinals though, and they went on to finish third at state with a 32-5-1 record.
Spanish Springs wrestling – The Cougars won their seventh regional title in eight years (fourth straight) and finished second state – the highest placing in program history. Coach Joe Imelli was named the Nevada Wrestling Coach of the Year.
Reed boys track – The Raiders won their first regional title since 1999.
This concludes the Sparks Tribune annual awards. Spanish Springs’ Ryan Anderson was named the Male Athlete of the Year and Reed’s Ali Miller was named the Female Athlete of the Year.