RENO – In order to reach the Division 1A West-East regional championship, the Wells boys basketball team faced a tall task in the regional semifinal.
Literally, a tall task.
The East No. 2 Leopards took on West No. 1 Sierra Lutheran in the late game Friday, facing a sizeable disadvantage.
“They were huge. Sierra Lutheran liked to work the ball into the post and probably had the biggest kid we have seen all year,” said Wells coach Joel Soriano.
Wells entered the contest with a looming question.
How much gas was left in its tank after the Leopards’ 77-72 victory in double overtime Thursday against Sage Ridge?
The answer, more than enough when fuel was combined with heart.
Victory did not come easily, Sierra Lutheran actually starting the game with success.
The Falcons outscored the Leopards 12-8 in the first quarter – led by six points with a three and an old-fashioned triple by senior Luke Bonafede – Wells topped by five points and a shot from deep by sophomore Riley Stewart.
In the second, the deficit remained the same – the Leopards and Sierra Lutheran each mounting 14 points.
Senior Zane Rodriguez surged the Wells offense with nine points in the period – including an And-1 plus the free throw – Bonafede and senior Nathan Waite adding four apiece for the Falcons.
Going to the locker room, Wells trailed by four at 26-22.
A comeback requires scoring points, but Wells’ response started on the defensive end.
“We started the game playing man-to-man, but we went back to our full-court press,” Soriano said. “Our kids just refused to lose or let them score. I told them that we had to have a nothing-easy approach.”
The Leopards allowed just six points in the third period, Wells notching 15 points of its own – turning the four-point deficit into a 37-32 lead going into the fourth quarter – Stewart posting seven points and a triple in the third quarter, junior Brent Battenfeld adding five points in the frame with an And-1 plus the freebie.
Sierra Lutheran never had a player score more than two points in the third quarter, held to two field goals and two free throws as a unit.
In the fourth quarter, the contest became a war of attrition and a battle of wills.
Wells was up to the challenge, turning in another defensive gem – the Falcons tallying just seven points.
The Leopards did their damage at the line – scoring 14 of their frame-high 22 points from the stripe.
Stewart tallied 10 points in the final frame – knocking down a three and splashing five freebies – Battenfeld added all six of his fourth-quarter points at the line, Rodriguez tallied four points in the fourth and senior Jesus Quintero added three freebies down the stretch.
Wells overcame a slow start and used sheer grit to extend to a 60-39 victory over the top-ranked Falcons.
Stewart dropped a game-high 25 points for the Leopards – drilling four 3s – scoring 10 of his 25 in the fourth quarter.
Rodriguez also scored in double digits and finished with 14 points, Battenfeld giving Wells its third double-figure scorer with 13 points – booking 11 in the second half.
Bonafede led the Falcons with 13 points, junior Hunter Lamprecht following with six points.
Sierra Lutheran was balanced – seven players finding the scoreboard – but only two mounted six points or more.
The Falcons’ offense was rounded out by four points apiece from seniors Quinn Cummings, Zane Warkentin, Logan Schinzing, Waite and sophomore Shawn Emm.
Wells’ scoring was capped by three points by junior Sergio Soriano, Quintero and a deuce from junior Jared Martinez.
Following their 47-31 loss in the regional championship against Jackpot, the West-East No. 2 Leopards will play Central-South No. 1 Mineral County at 8:15 p.m. Friday in the Division 1A state semifinal round at Sports Leadership and Management Academy, in Las Vegas.