ELKO – The Elko boys basketball had a couple challenges on its plate Saturday.
The Indians were searching for their seventh-consecutive league championship and No. 1 seed for the state tournament, needing to beat the Spring Creek Spartans – the team that ended Elko’s 71 game home winning streak on Feb. 6.
Done and done.
Elko avenged a 61-51 loss to the Spartans by a final score of 55-44 when it counted in the Division 3A North regional championship at Centennial Gymnasium.
The scoring for both squads was low in the early going, the first bucket of the game coming on a three by Spring Creek senior Levi Yaunick.
Elko found the board on a free throw by senior Jose Zataray and tied the game at the 5:30 mark on an And-1 finish by senior Ryan Wickersham.
Elko took the lead with 3:43 remaining in the period on two free throws by junior Ronin Rowley, but the Spartans immediately tied the game on a screen-roll to senior Jake Oliphant for an easy deuce.
With 2:30 on the clock, senior Dakota Larson gave the Spartans the lead at 7-5 with a knifing drive from the corner down the right baseline.
The Indians closed the first with back-to-back threes, the first coming by Wickersham from the right wing on a pass from Rowley.
Elko’s second triple came in dramatic fashion, freshman Sean Klekas advancing the ball down the middle of the floor.
He hit the brakes, stepped back and all-netted a three at the buzzer for an 11-7 lead.
The Indians never trailed for the remainder of the contest.
Spring Creek began the second period with two 1-for-2 trips to the line by Oliphant, followed by an offensive put-back from Rowley on the left side for the Indians.
Oliphant found great positioning on the block and earned another free throw, but Wickersham made a strong drive down the right side of the lane for Elko.
Spring Creek senior Ryan Miner scored on a nice dish from senior Caden Jangard, and Oliphant was fouled after another post-entry pass – pulling the Spartans to within one at 15-14 with a pair of freebies.
A jump-stop bucket by Wickersham dropped for the Indians, but Oliphant continued to serve as Spring Creek’s offense with a bunny deep in the lane.
Junior Alex Klekas hit a pair of free throws for the Indians, and Zataray closed the scoring in the second with a tough tip on the right side.
At the break, Elko led by five at 21-16.
Zataray opened the third quarter with a left-handed finish in the middle and made a steal, senior Jeron Yopps sinking one free throw for Elko.
The difference in Saturday’s game compared to the Feb. 6 contest was the Indians’ defensive intensity and rotation.
The Spartans found foul trouble – most coming on offense – Elko drawing several charges, Sean Klekas taking two and Zataray being awarded one.
Wickersham was fouled on the left wing while shooting a three, splashing all three attempts at the stripe.
Yopps scored on an inbound pass from Sean Klekas for a 29-16 lead.
The Spartans’ first points of the third came on a clean trip to the line by Oliphant with 5:10 on the clock.
Sean Klekas drew his second charge of the period with 4:56 remaining in the third, facing a seven-inch and 100-pound disadvantage – wearing it straight to the chest.
Spring Creek had two players with four fouls, committing another on the defensive end – Elko reaching the single-bonus at seven fouls with 4:36 remaining in the third, Spring Creek drawing two fouls in the span.
Wickersham drained both attempts at the line, but senior Daniel Eary scored for the Spartans on a pocket pass from Jangard.
Yopps tallied a deuce for the Indians, but Eary came up big for Spring Creek with a double-clutch finish in traffic.
Wickersham stepped around a screen hit a pull-up jumper for the Indians, followed by two free throws from Jangard after being fouled on a drive.
Alex Klekas buried an off-balance, right-to-left runner for Elko, but senior Thomas Ledford used an up-fake and cleared the way for a pull-up J along the baseline for the Spartans.
After turning the ball over, Alex Klekas used hustle to get it right back and raced past the defense down the left side for a layup.
The final bucket of the third came on a midrange jumper by Larson from a pass by Jangard.
Entering the fourth, Elko was eight minutes away from consecutive-league title No. 7 – the Indians on the high side at 39-28.
Yopps made a free throw when Elko reached the double-bonus with 7:34 on the clock, followed by an Alex Klekas steal for a layup.
The Indians took a 16-point lead on a deuce from Yopps on an Alex Klekas assist.
Spring Creek stopped its drought with a coast-to-coast take by sophomore Reed Westwood, but Alex Klekas railed a three on a dish from Zataray for a 47-30 lead.
The triple was answered by a deep-two from Miner with 5:08 remaining, but foul trouble mounted for the Spartans.
Sean Klekas hit one of two at the line, but Ledford dropped a three for the Spartans on a pass from Larson and trimmed the lead to 13 – Spring Creek surpassing its halftime total of 33 points from the Feb. 6 matchup with 4:30 remaining in the game.
The teams matched four-point runs, Elko scoring four from two free throws each by Zataray and Wickersham, Spring Creek booking four on a deuce by Yaunick and an And-1 on the left block by Oliphant.
Oliphant hit a free throw, followed by one each from Zataray for the Indians and Jangard for the Spartans.
Sean Klekas tallied Elko’s final points at the line, and Yaunick capped the scoring in the game with a deep three for Spring Creek.
Elko completed the journey for its seventh straight regional championship by a final score of 55-44.
Wickersham scored a game-high 18 points for the Indians, Oliphant topping Spring Creek’s roster with 14 points.
Zataray finished in double digits with 10 points for Elko, Alex Klekas adding nine and Yopps closing with eight.
Yaunick finished with eight for the Spartans, followed by five from Ledford.
Sean Klekas scored six points for the Indians.
SPRING CREEK – 7 – 9 – 12 – 16 – 44 Total
ELKO – 11 – 10 – 18 – 16 – 55 Total
“I’m really proud of the kids. They deserve the credit,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “A lot of them who didn’t play well on Tuesday (Feb. 6) stepped up and played very well. They showed a lot of toughness and did a much better job on defense. We still have to play better at state.”
Congratulations to Elko on seventh-consecutive regional title and No. 1 seed for the 3A state tournament and to Spring Creek for qualifying both Elko County teams into the big dance.
The North No. 2 Spartans will take on the South No. 1 and defending state champions, the Desert Pines Jaguars, at 4:45 p.m. Friday at Reno High School.
The North No. 1 Indians will play the team that eliminated Elko in the 3A state semifinal last season, facing the Desert Shields of Cheyenne at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Reno High School.
For all the marbles, the winners of the semifinal contests will battle for the Division 3A state championship at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Lawlor Events Center.