With a highly talented group that looked like they should have been playing in Division III or 1A, Spring Mountain won their first state boys basketball championship 61-38 over Pahranagat Valley at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Golden Eagles only other appearance in the finals was when they lost to PVHS in 2012.
It’s also the first championship for Ed Cheltenham who retired after the game following 35 years at the school and 11 years as head coach. He also coached Spring Mountain to seven state track championships during his tenure.
Cheltenham said earlier in the season this year’s team, “is just the best group I’ve ever had. I’ve got three good outside shooters and some serious quickness on the team, and they are coachable.”
Clark scored 24 points for the Eagles in their championship win. Jones had 13 points. Just the week before in the regional championship game with Pahranagat Clark had 15 points and Jones 21.
Spring Mountain had wasted defending state champion Whittell in the semifinals on Friday 69-54 putting four men in double figures.
One consolation the Pahranagat boys (17-8) can take from losing to Spring Mountain (24-4) is that they do have three straight wins over some of the same boys in the state football championship, and they showed tremendous potential in basketball for the next couple of years and beyond.
Clark scored eight points in the first quarter to help the Golden Eagles (24-4) take an 18-10 lead over the Panthers. He finished with 24 points and Jones had 13.
But the Panthers boys did their best to match the intensity and fought the Eagles hard on the boards in the championship with just a 36-33 edge for Spring Mountain. At the foul line Pahranagat was 5-for-12 (41.6 percent) and Spring 8-for-13 (61.5 percent).
Tabor Maxwell led PVHS with 12 points, and senior Joel Holaday had the best game of his career with 11 points.
Pahranagat’s Friday night semi final was an entirely different matter. What can you say about a basketball game that is 9-7 at halftime? “Most unusual” doesn’t even seem adequate.
The Panthers shot 22.6 percent and turned the ball over 21 times but found a way to edge the Northern Division champion Virginia City Muckers 26-23 to move into the final.
“Our kids over the last couple weeks find a way — they never make it easy — but they find a way to make a play here or there,” Pahranagat Valley coach Mike Strong said. “And we’ve definitely had some close ones, for sure.”
Virginia City’s Clint Hess scored off turnovers on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 23 with 1:46 to play.
But the Panthers got the lead back when Shawn Wadsworth hit one-of-two free throws with 53.9 seconds left, did it again with 11.2 seconds left, and Wade Leavitt did the same with 8.5 seconds remaining.
The Muckers (27-4) were 0-4 at the line in the final 1:08, and Clint Hess’ last chance three-point shot hit the rim as the buzzer sounded, went straight up in the air above the basket, but fell to the side.
The Panthers were 7-for-31 from the floor. The Muckers were even more dismal, making just 8 of 44 (18.2 percent). Virginia City was 2-for-19 (10.5 percent) on 3-pointers as both teams struggled to adjust to shooting in the arena.
“I think a lot of it was the arena, but I also think it was pretty good defense on both parts,” Strong said. “As you begin to struggle shooting, then struggles get worse instead of getting better.”
Maxwell had seven points and eight rebounds to lead PVHS. Leavitt had nine rebounds and three assists, and Jacob Roemer had eight rebounds for Pahranagat Valley as the Panthers outrebounded the Muckers 43-28.
Hess led all scorers with 15 points, but was 5-for-22 from the field and 3-for-12 from the foul line.
In summing up the season, Strong said he was very proud of the kids this year. “Going from 8-18 last year to 17-8, and the state runner-up this year is quite a change. And although we will miss the senior leadership, there is much to look forward to.”