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Season over for Tiger boys

by Donnie Nelson

What was shaping up to be an exciting run in the postseason by the Douglas High School boys basketball team came to a screeching halt Tuesday in Sparks.

Randy Messenger scored 11 of his game-high 28 points in the final two minutes as the host Railroaders held off the Tigers, 68-63, in a first-round game of the Class 4A Northern Zone tournament.

With the win, Sparks moved into the Friday’s semifinals and earned a berth in next week’s state tournament. Douglas, a team seemingly just starting to play its best basketball of the season, finished the season 13-12.

“Messenger was just too much for us. He’s an awfully good player,” Douglas coach Aubrey McCreary said. “He’s very gifted. If he played at that high of a level all the time he would possibly be a college player.”

The loss to Reno in the regular-season finale, which was for second place in league and home court advantage in the first round, and the loss at Sparks wasn’t what the Douglas coaches, players or fans had in mind going down the stretch. But, that’s exactly what did and now the focus shifts to next year.

The Tigers nearly took themselves out of the game completely in the first quarter with an 0-for-11 shooting performance from the field. The Railroaders made only 5-of-18 attempts from the field, including 1-of-8 from three-point range, but they scored six points off of offensive rebounds and raced out to an 11-3 lead.

Scott Warner made 1-of-2 free throws with 6:25 left and Adam Bill made two free throws with 2:06 left to account for all of the Tigers’ points in the first period. Sparks, which had a 17-8 advantage on the boards in the first quarter, including a 7-2 edge on the offensive boards, jumped out to a 9-1 lead in the opening five minutes.

The Tigers got their act together in the second quarter and got back into the game right away. They went on a 12-0 run over the opening 3:02 of the period, scoring on five of their first seven possessions.

Warner started the run with a nifty spin move along the right baseline, scoring over Cody Nish in a one-on-one play. Jim Coyne buried a three-pointer from the right wing and hit a short pull-up jumper in transition to keep the run going. Greg Bodenstein made two free throws after being fouled while going back up after getting an offensive rebound in the middle of the run, and Bruce Jacobsen drilled a three-pointer from the left wing off a pass from Coyne at the end of the run.

Sparks scored its first points of the quarter when London Wilson converted a runner in the lane with 4:24 remaining. Douglas built its lead back to four points, 17-13, on the ensuing possession when Bodenstein scored inside off a pass from Coyne.

Messenger scored seven points on Sparks’ next three possessions as the teams began to trade baskets. The Tigers, who made 8-of-11 attempts from the field and only gave up one offensive board and three rebounds total in the period, went into the locker room at halftime down 26-24.

The teams battled through two ties and four lead changes in the third quarter. However, the tempo shifted into high gear, not something McCreary wanted to see happen.

“We can’t give up 68 points and win,” McCreary said. “They got the game where they wanted it.”

Coyne got the Tigers off and running early. He put back his own miss for a basket for the first points of the second half. He hit a jumper from the right wing off a pass from Dunbar on the Tigers’ second possession of the half and then from the right elbow of the key off a pass from Warner on the third possession.

Douglas cranked up the offense and defense again in the middle of the quarter with a 5-0 run. Warner made 1-of-2 free throws, and Jacobsen made a layup in transition off a nice outlet pass from Chichester and put back an offensive rebound for a basket as the Tigers took a 35-33 lead with 3:52 left.

Messenger then showed signs of what was to come. He hit two three-pointers sandwiched around two free throws by Jacobsen to give the Railroaders a 39-37 lead. Sparks extended the lead to 45-40 by the end of the quarter with Messenger on the bench with three fouls over the last 2:54.

Once again, however, Coyne and the Tigers rallied. Coyne converted a three-point play and then made two free throws on the Tigers’ first two possessions of the fourth quarter to tie the game. Warner eventually drill a three-pointer from the top of the arc off a pass from Dunbar with 5:09 remaining in the game to give Douglas a 48-47 lead.

Sparks went on a mini run over the next 1:39 to take a six-point lead.

Chichester scored inside off a pass from Jacobsen to cut the lead to 54-52 with 3:10 remaining. Douglas later had a chance to tie but couldn’t, and Messenger took over down the stretch.

“The kids battled back,” McCreary said. “A couple of key possessions here and there. We didn’t take care of the ball.”

Messenger put home a thunderous dunk with 2:00 remaining to give Sparks a 58-52 lead. He made a three-pointer with 1:00 to go for a 61-55 lead. He made all six free throws he attempted in the final 37 seconds to seal the victory.

Douglas stayed close down the stretch but never had the ball with a chance to tie.

Dunbar made a three-pointer to pull the Tigers within 63-58 with 30 seconds left. Coyne put back an offensive rebound to cut the lead to 64-60 with 17 seconds left. Dunbar, fouled while shooting behind the arc, made three free throws to get the Tigers within 66-63 with 10 seconds left.

The future does look bright for the boys basketball program. The varsity team returns eight players, including all five of Friday’s starters, and has some talent coming up from a good junior varsity team.

“If the kids put in the time and the effort in the gym, they have the possibility of being a very good team next year,” McCreary said. “The kids hung in there all year. Hopefully they learned something and saw that it was not all just about basketball, but also about working hard and being good people.”

What was fun about the 1997-98 season?

“The whole journey,” McCreary said. “It was just exciting. We made a lot of big strides.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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