For the Spanish Spring boys basketball team, this was supposed to be the year.
Led by Marcus Loadholt, who averaged 3.7 points per game as a freshman and 20.3 ppg this winter, the Cougars and their eight seniors were going to win the first regional title in program history. That’s the way it was written out, at least, for the team that won all 16 of its 4A North games this season.
That idea collapsed on Thursday night in Carson as Bishop Manogue suffocated Spanish Springs in the 4A North semifinals, eventually winning on an Aidan Cantwell three with just four seconds left.
It’s one of the beautifully tragic elements of the single-elimination tournament. Drama is prioritized. Teams with more talent, that would be deemed superior, can become victim to the moment.
Leading into the semifinal, Bishop Manogue coach Moe Golshani said the Miners were hoping for “a miracle.” Nearly 84 percent (of 126 participants) on a Twitter poll picked the Cougars to advance.
Tonight is one of the most fun in the entire prep athletic calendar. Who you got advancing to the boys 4A North title game on Saturday?
— Nathan Shoup (@Trib_Shoup) February 16, 2017
And still, the Miners’ won. And it wasn’t a miracle.
For 30 minutes on Thursday night, the Cougars’ biggest strength became a weakness. Loadholt was often left to play one-on-five and it resulted in a 12-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining.
But Loadholt, with the help of junior Jalen Townsell, did something only the best player in program history could pull off. He mounted an unfathomable comeback, eventually tying the game with 22 seconds left on just the Cougs’ second triple of the night. It was his final bucket in a Spanish Springs uniform.
Cantwell ended the Cougars’ dream 18 seconds later.
Spanish Springs played arguably its worst game of the year. It threw bricks from the free throw line most of the night. A role player for Bishop Manogue scored 10 points above his season average. And several key contributors struggled.
Still, it took one of the most dramatic plays in sport to eliminate the Cougs.
The best team doesn’t always win in single-elimination tournaments. The onlooker’s gain (as well as the underdogs’) can become the favorite’s undoing. It’s what makes the NCAA Tournament so great every March.
When a No. 13 seed jumps up and shocks a No. 4 seed in the first round, ruining your bracket, it’s not because it’s the better squad. It’s because one team embraced the moment. Bishop Manogue embraced the moment on Thursday night.
Of no comfort to the Cougs, Bishop Manogue fell to Reno in Saturday’s 4A North title game, 62-51.
But of course, as the cliché suggests, beating a team for a third time is no gimme. We will never know if the adage would’ve rung true for the 2016-17 Spanish Springs-Reno rivalry.
What we do know, is that the Cougars were the most talented team in the 4A North this year. Loadholt was the region’s best pure scorer. Townsell, a legitimate NCAA Div. I prospect, stretched the floor as one of the longer shooting forwards in the state. Josh Prizina and Korbin Marcum presented the most talented front court Northern Nevada had to offer.
And still, it wasn’t enough.
Did the best team win on Thursday night? That’s unclear. Did Northern Nevada’s elite emerge on Saturday night? It’s up for debate.
The Miners simply took advantage of the single-elimination tournament format. The Huskies did the same on Saturday night.
They chose to bath in the spotlight. It was their year.
Nathan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.