Sparks, which narrowly beat Elko last week to advance to state, will face off against bitter rival Lowry in the state semifinals today at 12:40 p.m. at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Buckaroos were an 18-point victor over Fallon in regional play.
Sparks coach Mike Jones and first-year Lowry coach Chad Peters agreed to not play each other during the regular season because they felt they were the two best 3A teams in Nevada and wanted to wait until state to face each other.
Still, the two teams know each other very well after facing each other four times last year, including in both the regional and state championship games. The Railroaders won all four meetings a year ago and Lowry lost the state championship by three points, so Sparks knows the Buckaroos will have a chip on their shoulders.
“They’ll come out and they’re going to try to smell blood,” senior Henry Banks said of Lowry. “They want it so bad. But I think we can pull through and have another victory and win the state tournament again.”
Jones feels the teams are very similar. While he felt Elko was a better defensive team than Sparks but a weaker offensive squad, he believes Lowry matches up even with his team. However, the Buckaroos have an edge at the free-throw line, and Jones said the Railroaders will need to keep from fouling too much in order to have a chance in the game.
Jones also believes Lowry’s new coach provides something that can’t be measured in the stat column. Peters is from Winnemucca and brings a new intensity that permeated down to his players.
“Chad is a local kid from Winnemucca. We know how he played and what he teaches, so we’re familiar with them,” Jones said. “They’re a little scarier than they’ve been in the past because of him. He’s an X-factor. He’s got a lot of knowledge and teaches it very well.”
Both Sparks and Lowry earned the top seeds from their leagues for regional play. However, the Buckaroos enjoyed a better time in league action, going 10-0, while the Maroon and Gold was 8-2.
Lowry gets very balanced scoring. Sterling Snow leads the team at 13.5 points per game. Sean Millikan and Will Thacker average nine points a game, and Grant Miller adds about seven points. Miller plays point guard and is a strong defensive presence. He hands out six assists and swipes four steals per game.
“They’re good at all spots of the game. They’re very patient. They don’t shoot a lot of threes, so it tells you they run their stuff very well,” Jones said.
Jones said he believes it will only be a two- or three-point game either way and truly is a coin flip.
Sparks enters the game with a high level of confidence.
“I think last week’s win was really big for us. Everybody came together as a group. Nobody tried to put anybody down. Everybody was really supportive,” junior Brian Morgan said. “This week we’re really confident that our coaches have put in a good game plan for us. I think everyone is confident we can win.”
Sparks’ ability to play as a team has been a strength this season. With no big stars, teamwork will be key if the Railroaders want to repeat as 3A state champs.
“This year’s team plays more together as a team. We rely on each other instead of just one person,” senior Martin Jordan said. “I think we have a pretty good chance of winning. We just have to come out and play hard and play with confidence.”