"That's playoff basketball," Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. "We didn't play our best basketball, but you hope you can find some things to compensate for that. It's the playoffs. It's win or go home. I'm just happy to win. Our defense was the catalyst. It took everything to get over the hump."
A year ago, Carson stole a 38-37 first-round regional win at SSHS. With the margin at one headed to the fourth quarter, another Senators win was still potentially in the cards.
The hosts made sure that didn't happen. Spanish Springs held a 33-32 advantage with three quarters complete, but the Cougars took firm control of the postseason affair, outscoring their guests from the Capital City 15-2 through the first 5:51 of the final period.
"We fell apart late in the game," Carson coach Carlos Mendeguia said. "And that's largely a credit to Spanish Springs. They turned up the pressure. That, along with some fatigue, got to us. We didn't do the things we needed to do. Our guys didn't respond."
Spanish Springs, which picked up its lone playoff win in school history in a first-round regional triumph at Fallon in Feb. of 2009, scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to extend its edge to a game-high nine points, 41-32, with 4:32 remaining in the contest. Carson got a layup from Kyle Steele seconds later, but Spanish Springs ripped off seven more unanswered points, a burst capped by a Dupree Kness layup at the 2:09 mark of the fourth.
The Cougars had a game-high lead of 14 points, 48-34, after the key bucket and that gap was too much for the Senators to overcome.
Through the first three quarters, the playoff tilt was a game of small runs. A breakaway dunk by Carson's Alan Cohen helped the visitors grab the early momentum and jump out to a quick 9-2 lead midway through the initial period.
Just seconds into the second quarter, Kenny Meyer drained a 3-pointer to cut the CHS lead to one, 11-10. Then Carson (14-9) pushed back with six straight points for a 17-10 lead with 3:30 left before the intermission. Next, it was the Cougars' turn again as the hosts ended the first half on a 10-4 run and trailed by just one, 21-20 at the break.
A Hunter Fralick layup with 5:49 showing on the third-quarter clock saw Spanish Springs take its first lead of the game, 24-23. Less than a minute later, Steele knocked down a 15-foot jumper, pushing the Senators back on top, 25-24. That was Carson's last lead of the night. Spanish Springs strung together the next seven points, the last four of which came on back-to-back Fralick layups.
The buckets left the Cougars with a 31-25 lead and they never trailed again.
"Through the first three quarters, we stayed patient," Mendeguia said. "We stuck to our game plan. We passed the ball and moved the ball well. Then we got away from the game plan."
Spanish Springs finished the night shooting 19-of-38 (50 percent) from the field. Kenny Meyer connected on 8-of-12 shots from the field and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe to finish with a game-high 23 points. Additionally, Meyer, who snagged five steals, got three of those near the top of the Carson offensive key and turned them into breakaway layups, just in the second half alone.
"It's about all five of us defensively for sure, but in the last few days of practice, we've spent a lot of time working on Carson's offense," Meyer said. "Our coaches talked that we wanted to shoot up the middle and not chase, or they'd do whatever they wanted."
Penney heaped praise on his standout senior guard.
"We preach that for us to be successful defensively, it has to be five guys playing as one," Penney said. "Kenny is a great shooter and people talk about how good of an offensive player he his. But he's a pretty good defensive player too."
Kness chipped in 11 points to the SSHS gang's winning cause.
Steele and Cohen paced the Carson offense, posting 13 and 10 points respectively in defeat.
With Wednesday's first-round playoff win, Spanish Springs (17-10), the High Desert League runner-up, advances to a regional semifinal Friday night against Sierra League champion Galena. The game will be played on the Cougars' home court as SSHS had already been selected as the host site for the boys and girls DI North semifinals and finals. Tipoff is slated for 7:15 p.m.
"This is a great senior class and they work hard," Penney said. "Obviously, we've got a lot of seniors, and they're best friends. They do a lot of great things and the chemistry is there. It's just a very deserving group."