Boys' Basketball: Douglas beats Galena, advances to regional title game and clinches first state berth in 16 years

It's been 16 years, but the Douglas boys' basketball team will be packing its bags for the state tournament next week.

The Tigers survived a drought offensively through the final six minutes of the game and held on for a 47-43 win over Galena -- avenging the team's defeat in the Northern 4A Regional championship game last year and clinching their first state berth since 1992.

"It's a great feeling," Douglas senior forward David Laird said. "Just being able to do it all together, that was the great part about it.

"We talked a lot about last year, how Galena got us in the regional championship game. We were definitely looking for a bit of revenge tonight."

The win put Douglas through to the regional championship game Saturday night, where the Tigers will face Reno at 6 p.m. at Spanish Springs High School.

The Huskies were 57-45 victors over Bishop Manogue Thursday night. Regardless of Saturday's outcome, both Reno and Douglas will be competing in next week's state tournament at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Douglas appeared ready to run away with Thursday night's game several times, but the Tigers ended up needing every bit of a 12-point fourth-quarter lead to hold on for the win.

After Douglas' James McLaughlin opened the fourth with a layup to give the Tigers a 44-32 lead with 6:32 left.

The Tigers didn't hit another field goal in the game, and the Grizzlies went on an 11-2 run to close within three at 46-43 with 10.6 seconds left. Douglas' Jeff Nady, however, hit the front end of a pair of free throws and Galena's Luke Babbitt sent up a desperation shot with three seconds left that sailed into Nady's hands, running out the clock.

The run was all too reminiscent of last year's title game, which Douglas led throughout before Galena escaped with a one-point win.

"It started feeling a bit too familiar for us," Laird said. "We know they always put together a late run, but we just held on, right down to the last second. It was tough."

Despite the late offensive drought, Douglas coach Corey Thacker said he felt his team followed through on its gameplan. The Tigers simply put the burden on their defense.

"Our whole goal, like we've been saying all along, is to keep teams under 50 points," Thacker said. "That's a tough thing to do when you have a guy averaging 30 points (Babbitt). We were able to meet our goal, and that helped us."

Douglas threw a mixture of defenses at the University of Nevada-bound Babbitt, ranging from a zone to man-to-man. While he finished with a game-high 25 points, he wasn't allowed to take the game over at any point, which was key to the Tigers' ability to hold on.

Laird drew the assignment on Babbitt, but received plenty of help from his teammates. Babbitt opened the game up with a 3-pointer over Laird, but Douglas clamped down and went on a 12-2 run through the remainder of the first quarter to gain the momentum.

"Luke is always a big scorer, and keeping him down was our goal," Laird said. "At the beginning when he hit that 3-pointer in my face, I thought it was going to be a long game.

"We mixed it up on him though. He is just not easy to guard. I needed a lot of help from my teammates. We all guarded him together and that was effective."

The flip side was finding a way to draw Babbitt's long body out of the paint when he was on defense.

Douglas center Jeff Nady spent the majority of the game on the perimeter, which opened up the lane for Laird and James McLaughlin, who each finished with 11 points.

"We knew it would be a tough match-up inside for Jeff," Thacker said. "He stuck to the game plan. He didn't want to force anything.

"That's a big role to fill, being the leading scorer on this team. He had to step back a bit and allow someone else to step up, and that worked."

Nady still led the team in scoring with 12 points, although it came on three 3-pointers and three free throws.

After Douglas put up a 12-5 lead in the first quarter, Babbitt converted a conventional 3-point play to open the second and Galena's Markis Robinson sandwiched a Laird basket with a basket and pair of free throws of his own, twice cutting the Tiger lead to two.

Douglas answered with a 14-3 run, punctuated by 3-pointers from Nady and McLaughlin and a pair of baskets from point guard Ross Bertolone.

Bertolone finished with eight points, marking his second-consecutive game with significant scoring numbers to boost the Tiger offense.

"Ross is in a position where he's really still learning the point, but he has been getting better and improving every game," Thacker said. "He's come on strong for us in the playoffs."

The teams essentially traded baskets in the third quarter as Galena outscored Douglas 16-14 to enter the fourth trailing 42-32.

McLaughlin's bucket to open the fourth ended Douglas' night from the field as the Tigers got their final three points from the free throw line.

"We weren't looking to delay, we still wanted to attack, but our priority was on protecting the ball," Thacker said. "We watched a lot of film of last year's playoff game. We knew what they like to do and we were expecting them to start setting that half court trap and that three-quarter trap.

"We felt the biggest thing was to stay patient."

With the win, Douglas advances to the regional title game for the second time in as many years. It also meant that a boys' team from Douglas has qualified for the regional title game in every major team sport except for football in the last calendar year.

"After looking at our guys at the start of the season, we thought it was a realistic goal to get back here," Thacker said. "We knew we could get back, but we had to play tough to do it."

Douglas improved to 21-9 on the year with the win.


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