ELKO – The Elko boys basketball team has made it a habit of starting slowly in recent weeks.
After a poor first half, the Indians hit the floor running in the second half – outscoring the Vaqueros 23-7 in the third period and extending to a 62-46 victory – stamping their seventh straight trip to the state tournament.
The Indians opened the game with a three from the left wing by senior Ryan Wickersham, but Fernley answered with a triple from senior Zach Burns.
Wickersham grabbed an offensive rebound and followed up for a 5-3 lead, but senior Russell Ortiz worked free and tied the game in a pick-and-roll with Burns.
Elko went up 7-0 on a slashing drive by junior Alex Klekas, splitting a double team.
The Vaqueros went on a 7-0 run, all points coming from junior Rei Robinett.
He knocked down a baseline jumper, followed with a deep three from the left wing and cashed a pull-up just inside the arc.
Fernley opened a 12-7 advantage.
The Indians broke their drought with a free throw by freshman Sean Klekas, but Elko missed three out of four attempts at the stripe.
Elko struggled to get the ball inside, most passes rotating around the perimeter.
Burns scored along the baseline on a feed from Ortiz, closing the frame.
The Vaqueros led 14-8 after the first quarter.
Senior Jose Zataray knocked down a fall-away jumper from the left side to start the second, but senior Dario Ceresola ripped a three that bounced home from the left wing.
Elko answered with a three of its own from the left, junior Ronin Rowley sizing up the stroke.
The Indians splashed another triple from the left side, senior Angelo Antoniou netting the attempt from distance on a kick from Alex Klekas.
Elko took a one-point lead with 3:30 remaining in the half, senior Jeron Yopps scoring on a post pass from Sean Klekas.
Burns put the Vaqueros back to the high side at 20-18 with his second three, Fernley taking a 24-18 lead on Robinett’s second dagger from deep – this one including an Elko foul for a free throw as well.
The Indians pulled to within three on a wet ball from Sean Klekas as the top of the arc, but Ceresola closed the half with a double-clutch finish across the lane.
At the break, Fernley owned a 26-21 advantage.
The Indians opened the third period with two straight buckets on a deuce by Zataray and a floater by Wickersham – trimming the deficit to one.
Robinett extended the lead to three for Fernley, but Alex Klekas pulled Elko to within one with a pair of free throws.
After the Indians had several looks at the rim, Wickersham gave Elko a 29-28 lead with a put-back in the middle.
Elko grabbed a 31-28 lead on a bucket from Yopps, forcing a timeout with 4:29 remaining in the third.
A steal by Zataray went the other way a layup, Elko on top 33-28.
He added another deuce for a 33-28 lead, and Wickersham tallied consecutive scores for a 37-28 lead.
Elko kept the has gas down, Alex Klekas finishing through a foul on a runner and connecting at the line.
He grabbed a loose ball off the floor and dashed to the tin for a 42-28 lead.
With 2:05 on the clock, Elko had ripped off to a 21-2 run in a matter of six minutes.
Burns ended Fernley’s nightmare stretch with a three from straightaway but Alex Klekas responded with a deuce for the Indians.
Junior Kyle Heimbruch put down an And-1 for the Vaqueros with less than a minute remaining in the period.
Elko took a 44-33 lead into the fourth quarter, outscoring Fernley 23-7 in the third.
Alex Klekas grabbed his own miss for a midair put-back, and Antoniou cashed his second three from the left wing.
Ortiz knocked down a jumper for Fernley, followed by a free throw from Yopps.
Ceresola lined up a triple for the Vaqueros, but Yopps grabbed a rebound from a missed three for a finish in the middle.
Burns knifed inside for Fernley for his 12th and 13th points, the Vaqueros taking a timeout and trailing by 12.
Wickersham hit a freebie for the Indians, Ceresola reaching double digits for the Vaqueros with a pair.
Sean Klekas put the Indians on top 55-42 with two freebies before Burns connected for a deuce.
Yopps scored four straight for Elko to hit double figures, Burns scoring on the other end.
Elko regained a 15-point advantage against the Fernley press, Alex Klekas booking his 14th and 15th points on the break.
With 17.8 seconds remaining, Zataray made a free throw for the final point of the game.
Elko overcame a five-point deficit and blitzed the Vaqueros in the second half to the tune of 41-20 for a 62-46 victory.
Burns closed with a game-high 17 points in defeat, followed by a team-high 15 points from Alex Klekas for the Indians.
Robinett finished with 13 points for Fernley, scoring just two after the break.
Wickersham scored in double figures for Elko with 12 points, followed by 11 points by Yopps.
Ceresola reached double digits for the Vaqueros with 10 points, and Zataray neared double figures for the Indians with nine.
FERNLEY – 14 – 12 – 7 – 13 – 46 Total
ELKO – 8 – 13 – 23 – 18 – 62 Total
The Indians notched their seventh straight trip to the regional final, qualifying for their seventh-consecutive state tournament.
Elko will look for its seventh regional championship in a row, playing Spring Creek at 5 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Gymnasium – a rematch of the game that snapped the Indians’ 71-game home winning streak on Feb. 6 in a 61-51 victory for the Spartans.