The Panthers win snapped a six-game losing skid for North Valleys against Spanish Springs. The north Reno school had not beaten its league rival since the 2009-10 season. In fact, Spanish Springs had won nine of the last 11 meetings between the two schools prior to Thursday's loss.
"I think we're better than that," Cardenas said. "We didn't compete well enough. North Valleys outworked us. It's a credit to them. They deserved to win. They were better tonight."
Spanish Springs fell behind by 10 on two separate occasions in the second quarter. North Valleys wound up taking a 31-22 edge into the locker room at the break. However, the visitors grabbed the momentum in the third period. The Cougars scored 12 of the first 14 points in the quarter. The spurt was capped when senior point guard Hannah Woytek pulled up for a jumper at the free-throw line and knocked it down, giving the Cougars a 34-33 lead.
North Valleys closed the quarter's scoring when Shania Laney dropped in a layup with 1:53 still showing on the third-quarter clock. That bucket allowed North Valleys to forge ahead 35-34 with a period to play.
The hosts pushed their lead to 37-34 by making 2-of-4 foul shots in the first 42 seconds of the final quarter. Spanish Springs responded with a layup from Adrianna Pennington and two from Katrina Prendergast to take a 40-37 advantage with 4:37 remaining in the game.
North Valleys got a layup from Tyler Rivera and two free throws from Karolina Perez to regain the lead at 41-40, leaving 3:21 still to go in the contest.
Woytek, who attended North Valleys as a freshman before transferring to Spanish Springs, has been the Cougars starting point guard since she moved. The Cougars' talented floor general fouled out with 2:34 left in the game. Spanish Springs was down 41-40 at the time and it was unable to mount much offense the rest of the way.
North Valleys pushed its lead to 46-40 with a minute and a half left but the result was not sealed just yet. Cougars senior shooting guard Mariah Vargas canned two foul shots and then drained a 3-pointer with 46 ticks remaining, trimming North Valleys lead to one, 46-45.
Rebounding woes hurt Spanish Springs all night but they proved most costly in the end. The Cougars fouled and got North Valleys to miss both ensuing free throws, but the Panthers corralled the second miss for an offensive rebound.
After another Spanish Springs foul, North Valleys made its first free throw but missed a second only to get another offensive rebound. The Cougars fouled again and watched the Panthers connect on 1-of-2 free throws again before finally grabbing a rebound.
"Finishing and turnovers killed us," Cardenas said. "We had chances and we couldn't finish and we didn't take care of the ball. We got out-rebounded the whole game and especially at the end of the fourth quarter. We didn't put a body on anybody."
Trailing by the final 48-45 margin, Cougars reserve guard Kara Buscay threw up a desperation 3-point prayer. It missed short and North Valleys (3-4, 1-1) collected the key league win.
Vargas hit a trio of treys and led all scorers with 14 points. Prendergast posted 12 in defeat.
No North Valleys player finished in double digits in the scoring column but four different players contributed eight points to the Panthers' winning cause.
Spanish Springs (5-2, 1-2) returns to the court Monday for a non-league game against South Tahoe at home at 1 p.m.