Two losses to the Needles Mustangs during the regular league season maybe phased the Lincoln County girls basketball team to some degree as they faced off for the third time in the championship of the Division III Southern League tournament at Sunrise Mountain High last Saturday, but they overcame that.
The two losses, only by a combined seven points, made them eager to have another try at the Mustangs. Over the past seven years, Needles has held the upper hand in the series, winning almost 70 percent of the time, but not this time.
Eager as both teams may have been, each got off to a slow start, and Lincoln might have been concerned, going 0-for-9 from the floor the first quarter and only leading 3-2, with Needles not doing any better.
Even at halftime, it wasn’t great, Lincoln leading 18-10. But, in the second half, they came alive, topping Needles 48-32 and earning their third consecutive league tournament title.
Lincoln was 3 of 4 on three point attempts and 13 of 22 at the foul line (59 percent). Needles made good on just two of 14 three-point tries and was 8 of 14 at the foul line (57 percent).
“I’m really proud of the girls,” Lincoln County coach Lori Cheeney said. “They did a good job mentally coming back from two losses to this team, and that was satisfying for them. We really didn’t focus on anything different other than doing things right. We’ve tried doing that all along, but they’re just finally getting it. We didn’t want to go into the tournament (in Reno) and face the No. 1 seed right off the bat. We’re right where we want to be going into the state tournament.”
Jillyn Katschke made Lincoln’s first field goal with 6 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first half, scoring all eight of her points that first half.
The Lynx (14-4) took advantage of three consecutive turnovers from Needles (20-8) to start the third quarter on a 7-0 run. Jaycee Wadsworth and Kayla Mathews led the charge, scoring nine of the team’s 12 third-quarter points. Wadsworth had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Savannah Harr scored the Lynx’s first six points of the fourth quarter to help seal the victory. She led the Lynx with 15 points and had three steals.
“Savannah is young, only a sophomore,” Cheeney said. “We’ve been working really hard on her to help her understand when to go for it and when to run the offense. It’s coming together for her. The offense wasn’t working out, but she saw opportunities to drive, and she took them when she needed to.”
Needles struggled all game long with Lincoln County’s full-court press. The Mustangs finished 11-for-39 (28.2 percent) from the field in the game and had 26 turnovers. Brenna Chavez had 11 points and six rebounds for the Mustangs, and teammate Demi Limon scored 10.
“They did a great job defensively on us today, bottom line,” said Needles coach Manuel Calderon. Both teams advance to the state tournament in Reno this weekend. It is Lincoln’s 12th time in the past 15 years, and they will be seeking its first state championship since 2000.
Lincoln will play the Incline Highlanders (23-3) at North Valleys High today at 3 p.m. Needles meets three-time defending state champion Pershing County (25-3) at 6:20 p.m. Winners advance to the state championship at the Lawlor Center Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
Last Friday night, in the Southern league tournament semifinals against Calvary Chapel, Lincoln coach Lori Cheeney said she had a particular game plan in mind.
The plan was to contain Calvary’s leading scorer, Phallen Nelson, and maintain solid full-court pressure without fouling.
Both strategies worked to perfection as Lincoln County ran away with a 52-32 win over Calvary Chapel in the Division III Southern League semifinals at Sunrise Mountain “The girls are all just coming together,” Cheeney said. “The last few times we’ve beaten (Calvary Chapel), we had one or two girls doing some good things. We had a complete team effort, and everybody was in sync with each other tonight. That made the difference.”
Jaycee Wadsworth had 19 points, seven rebounds and five steals to lead Lincoln County. She scored 13 points in the first half as the Lynx took a 27-15 halftime lead.
Kayla Mathews added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Lynx, and teammate Savannah Harr scored eight.
But, it was the team’s defense that sent Lincoln County into the championship game.
Nelson, a senior, entered the game averaging 17.5 points per game, but had only three points by halftime, and was plagued by foul trouble, eventually fouling out with 5:50 left in the game. She finished with a season low 10 points. “The first time we played against them,” Cheeney said, “she (Nelson) scored 21 points,”
Lincoln’s press suffocated Calvary Chapel (13-7) all game, giving up only 10 total points and forcing 16 turnovers in the middle quarters alone.
“We work a lot on the press because we are so strong on defense,” Cheeney said. “That’s what we rely on. The few times we haven’t started out the game pressing, it just goes flat really fast.”
Lianne Reyes kept Calvary Chapel competitive with a 6-for-6 effort from the line and 10 of the Lions’ 15 points before halftime. She finished with 18 points and three assists.