When the two teams met again Friday night in a Northern 3A state play-in game, Fernley had grown up. The second meeting was a far cry from the first and left many Sparks players crying. The visiting Vaqueros captured a 60-59 upset win at Sparks, earning a state tournament berth while ending the season for Sparks.
The difference in the game proved to be a banked in 3-pointer by Fernley’s Cade Knutsen. The lucky shot came with 1:40 left in overtime and gave the Lyon County school a 60-57 lead. The long-range bucket was the only points the Vaqueros scored in overtime.
Sparks got a driving layup from Brian Morgan with 1:21 left in the extra session, trimming Fernley’s lead to the final 60-59 score. Still, Sparks had opportunities.
Fernley’s Tim Klotz was fouled with 4.5 ticks to go. He missed the front end of the bonus free-throw situation. Sparks senior Erik Garcia pulled down the rebound and was pushed. Officials whistled Fernley for the foul and Garcia got a trip to the charity stripe. Garcia then missed the ensuing bonus foul shot, but the ball went out of bounds off Fernley, giving Sparks possession with 1.8 seconds left.
Morgan got off a contested look at the rim on the in-bounds set, but his attempt bounced away, preserving the upset win for Fernley.
“I think we just couldn’t finish,” Sparks coach Dan Schreiber said. “We had the opportunities. We got stops when needed to get stops. We got great looks when we needed. We couldn’t get the ball to go. We even got free-throw opportunities where we just couldn’t finish them.”
Sparks trailed by two, 44-42 entering the final period, but scored the first seven points of the fourth to forge ahead 49-44. Fernley scored six of the next nine points to get within two, 52-50, but Morgan dropped in a runner, pushing Sparks’ lead to 54-50 with 4:33 remaining in regulation.
Fernley put together a modest 7-3 run to end the fourth quarter and force overtime. Knutsen drained a 3-pointer with 2:22 left in the fourth that deadlocked the game at 57-57. Neither team scored again until overtime.
Knutson, one of the top players in the 3A, canned four treys and finished with a game-high 20 points. Klotz chipped in 11 for Fernley.
“We played with energy,” Fernley coach Derek Miller said. “We played like we didn’t want to go home. I knew if we could get Knutson hot and get him some good looks we’d be OK. These kids have been working hard. They’ve been getting better and gelling. We’ve been playing good basketball since we came in here last time.”
Sparks was just never able to gain much separation, like it did quickly in the blowout win over the Vaqueros in early January.
Fernley went up 14-9 with just under two minutes to go in the first quarter, but Sparks managed to knot the postseason affair at 14-14 after the first tight minutes.
Sparks won the second quarter16-14 and held a 30-28 lead at halftime.
A DJ Devine baseline jumper at the third period’s 4:20 mark gave Sparks a 40-35 lead, but Fernley grabbed the momentum with a 9-2 run to close out the quarter.
The Sparks offense was paced by Keiffer Putman, who dropped five 3-point bombs and finished with 18 points, and Morgan, who also tallied 18 points. Garcia added 10 to the losing SHS cause.
Sparks concludes its winter campaign with an 18-7 record. Fernley (13-13) punches its ticket to the 3A state tournament, which is set to begin Feb. 24 at the University of Nevada’s Lawlor Events Center.
“It’s really frustrating,” Schreiber said. “The kids played hard all season and by no means was our schedule an easy one.
“It’s just one of those things. You look at the scorebook and they had kids hitting threes who had not taken one all year. Wow.”