Elko is regarded by some as the best boys basketball team in northern Nevada, regardless of classification. So when it made the trek across the state to face a struggling one-win Sparks team, a competitive contest was not the outcome many were picking.
The visiting Indians blew open Friday's conference clash with a dominating fourth period, but Sparks hung around for the first three quarters before succumbing, 69-44.
"I think we competed until about two minutes into the fourth quarter," Sparks coach Dan Schreiber said. "And then I thought the wear and tear of banging on their bigger bodies broke us down. Plus they go deeper into their bench, playing a lot of guys a lot of minutes.
"But for the first 25 minutes or so, it was pretty much a 10-to-12-point ball game. We competed just about as well as we could. That should give us some confidence and be something to build on."
The host Railroaders did stay within the 10-to-12-point margin throughout much of the game. Elko took a 49-37 lead into the fourth period, before outscoring Sparks 20-7 in the last eight minutes to account for the final lopsided margin.
Sparks got a corner 3-pointer from Vernon Trinidad with 5:51 remaining in the game and fell behind 53-40. Elko then ripped off the next 12 points to kick start a 16-2 outburst over the next five minutes of action.
"In the fourth quarter, I thought Sparks got tired," veteran Elko coach Chris Klekas said. "We were executing better too and then obviously we've got a size advantage. We started switching screens too and that helped because we got a little tighter. When you contest shots, it's a little more difficult to shoot."
While Sparks was able to keep from getting blown out through the first three periods, it never really threw much of a scare into its guests from eastern Nevada. Elko snagged an 11-2 edge five minutes into the game. Sparks managed to score seven of the next 10 points and trim the EHS lead to 14-9 with two minutes left in the initial period.
Elko held a 19-11 lead when the first quarter was complete.
The two teams traded buckets through much of the second period. Sparks' Kevin Borja hit a short jumper in the lane to keep Sparks within eight, 34-26, with 20 seconds remaining before halftime. That's as good as it got for the Railroaders. Elko's Brandon Jenkins buried a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the first half and the Indians were left with a 37-26 edge at the intermission.
Sparks was never within single digits again.
A big reason Sparks was able to remain competitive for much of the game was its ability to take better care of the basketball. The Railroaders had been turning the ball over almost 30 times an outing, but limited that number to 15 Friday.
Sparks finished the game shooting 19-of-57 (33 percent) from the field.
"A lot of it was just effort. We've spent the last three weeks talking about the quality of possessions and valuing the basketball," Schreiber said. "We had one huge advantage tonight and that was nobody expected us to win. There was no pressure on us. I'm sure many people had already penciled in a win for Elko and a loss for Sparks, but we played hard and had nothing to lose."
Elko's 6-foot 10-inch center Brian Pearson led all scorers, finishing with 15 points. Nathan Klekas and Jenkins both chipped in 13 points for the Indians while Tim Meo added 10.
A trio of Sparks players all posted 10 points in defeat -- Trinidad, Borja and Isaiah Campbell.
Elko improved to 11-1 overall and 6-0 in league meetings. The Indians' lone loss this winter came against Herriman of West Herriman, Utah (51-42) during a tournament three weeks ago in Salt Lake City.
"I give a lot of credit to Sparks," Coach Klekas said. "They didn't miss a lot of shots early. And when you do that, you look good. Sparks played hard. They did a good job running their stuff and making shots. Our defenders were getting there after the catch instead of before the catch and then Sparks shot it well because of that."
Sparks fell to 1-11 overall and 1-4 in conference matchups. The SHS crew hosts Spring Creek Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
In the girls game, Elko had no trouble dismantling Sparks, rolling to a 49-12 league win.
Sparks (1-9, 1-4) never scored more than five points in a single quarter. Elko put the 40-point running-clock mercy rule into effect in the third period and never looked back.
"The last couple games, we have not been playing real well together," Elko coach Camille Larsen said. "But that was good for us tonight. We were much better. We made the extra pass when we needed to."
Elko led 10-1 after the first period and 24-3 by halftime. The Indians blew the game open by outscoring Sparks 25-4 in the third period.
Desirae Danner scored 14 points for Elko (9-3, 5-1) to lead all scorers. No Sparks player had more than four points in the drubbing.
"We are struggling with the (defensive) trap," Sparks coach Frank Avilla said. "At times we broke it well but other times we did not. Even when we did, we missed a lot of shots in transition.
"The tough thing is we did some things well. We rebounded well, but we really struggled to score and that's all you kind of see because of the score."
Sparks hosts Spring Creek at noon Saturday.