Most everyone knows the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Pahranagat Valley coach Michael Strong is familiar with both sides. He’s been there as a player and a coach.
Thus, it was no doubt hard to talk to the Panthers boys after a heartbreaking 61-57 overtime loss to defending state champion Mineral County in the 1A state tournament semifinals last Friday at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
Turnovers, which have been the bugaboo for the Panthers all season long, were there again in this game. They committed 22 turnovers, including a pair of key ones in overtime.
Pahranagat lost the state championship to Mineral County last year and had been hoping for a rematch in this year’s tournament.
“We were down early and it didn’t look good,” Strong said. “Our kids battled back and gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. We just couldn’t capitalize and turned the ball over too much down the stretch. This is going to be a tough one to swallow.”
Robert McFalls, Mineral County’s smooth point guard, had 12 of his game-high 21 points and Victor Montoya had three 3-point shots in the first half, giving the Serpents a 31-26 halftime lead. By then, Culen Highbe had eight points for Pahranagat.
The Panthers (24-4) caught up in the third quarter and the teams played even in the fourth quarter.
With six seconds to go in regulation, Highbe scored a lay-in for Pahranagat on a lead pass from Richard Lewis, tying the game at 49. Then Mineral County’s last shot was no good and the game went to overtime.
Pahranagat looked to be in control after a pair of overtime 3-point plays by Richard Lewis, the second of which gave Pahranagat Valley a 57-55 lead with 1:32 left.
But Lewis fouled out with 1:02 to go, and the Serpents finished the game on a 6-0 run to earn the win.
“Even going into overtime, I felt really good about our chances,” Strong said. “Richard obviously stepped up big time. It hurt when he fouled out.”
McFalls made four free throws in the final 25.6 seconds to help seal the win for Mineral County.
Montoya hit five 3-point plays and added 15 points, and Damien Montoya had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Serpents.
Highbe had 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots to lead the Panthers. Lewis had 16 points and six rebounds, and Preston Higbee scored 13 for Pahranagat Valley.
“Sometimes in life you’re going to work hard and you’re going to think you’ve earned something and you’re not going to get it,” Strong said. “That’s kind of what happened tonight. So it’s a good life lesson for us moving forward.”
In other semifinal, Spring Mountain had little to no trouble clobbering Whittell 57-34, behind Shawn Shumpert’s 19 points.
Shumpert came back the next night against Mineral County with another 19- point performance to quarterback the Eagles to a 50-36 win for the championship.