LAS VEGAS — It seemed from day one of practice in November 2021 is was a state championship or bust for the Lowry High School girls basketball team.
Prior to November 2021, the last time the Lady Bucks were on the floor was against Truckee in the regional tournament in February 2020 in Fallon. Lowry lost that game and then lost the 2020-21 season due to the Covid pandemic.
Throw in a coaching change in that time frame, the return of four seniors and seven new players, expectations were still high.
After two trips to Las Vegas to get ready for the season, Lowry did not lose a game in the 2022 calendar year and capped off a 27-3 season with a 52-29 victory over rival Spring Creek this past Saturday at the Cox Pavilion to win the school’s seventh state title in the sport.
The Lady Bucks, who ended the season with a 19-game win streak, are tied for the fourth most state championships in Nevada history along with Elko and Reno. Lowry finished the year at 27-3.
“Everything this year led up to this,” said LHS coach Jesse Zamudio. “It’s hard with a group like this to focus on one game at a time. They did a great job of staying focused and had a lot of solid mental reps during the week leading up to the tournament. We had a lot of coaches come in during the week to talk to the girls and they soaked it up and really learned. We just spent a lot of time talking and in thought. I could not have asked for a better group and the effort they gave this weekend.”
That state championship was in danger for a bit on Friday afternoon, as Lowry opened the state tournament against Pahrump Valley. In a close game throughout, the Trojans used a 9-2 run late in the third quarter to take a three-point lead over the Lady Bucks.
It was just the second time in the calendar year that Lowry trailed going into the fourth quarter.
The deficit did not last long, as Lowry rallied for the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, as Hannah Whitted connected on a short basket, followed by a jumper from Jovi Kuskie. Savannah Stoker added back-to-back baskets to finish off the run and gave the Lady Bucks a 43-38 lead with 4:17 to play.
The advantage grew to 45-38 with less than three minutes to play when Pahrump Valley stopped the run with two free throws.
The Trojans did not have a field goal in the fourth quarter, as the Lady Bucks outscored them 19-4. Kuskie and Emily Backus added eight free throws in the final 69 seconds.
Lowry took a 11-6 lead in the first quarter after five straight points by Backus, including a 3-pointer. The senior added another bucket as time expired to keep Lowry ahead by four points at 15-11.
Back-to-back buckets by Stoker increased the gap to eight points at 19-11, only to see the Trojans slowly cut into the deficit. A short jumper by Stoker kept the gap at 24-20, when Pahrump Valley scored the next four points to tie the game at 24-24.
As Lowry got into foul trouble, Kailey Franklin came off the bench and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to give the Lady Bucks the lead back going into the break.
Stoker paced Lowry with 22 points. Backus added 16, McKenzi Petersen and Kuskie four each and Whitted and Franklin three each.
Spring Creek 29
It’s tough to beat a team twice in a season, a little tougher to do three times and just that much more for a fourth time. That was what Lowry had to do to win its state title against Spring Creek.
The Lady Bucks beat the Spartans twice in the regular season and beat its rival for the regional title in Winnemucca by just six points.
The fourth meeting was the most lopsided of the all, as the Lady Bucks showed no signs of nerves and were dominant from the start in the 23-point win.
“It feels pretty good right now, actually really great,” Kuskie said. “Everything came together today and just clicked. It was fun to be out there and see us play like that. This is an amazing group of girls. We just mesh together so well. We tried to put the pressure that was on us and just played it one game at a time. We were expected to win from the start of the year but we never let that get into our minds. I am having the best senior year right now; I don’t even know what to think. I am just going to enjoy all of this.”
Whitted scored the first four points of the game and finished with six points to give Lowry the early advantage.
After Spring Creek cut the gap to one on the strength of a 3-pointer, Lowry reeled off the next 10 points, starting with an-old-fashioned 3-point play by Stoker.
Petersen added two baskets and Backus hit a 3-pointer near the end of the first quarter to give Lowry a 17-5 lead after eight minutes of play.
“They put it all together today and it was fun to watch what they can do,” said the coach. “We have been harping the last couple weeks to let our defense get the job done. We know what we can do on offense and get out in transition and score.”
Lowry collected two early baskets by Stoker and Mia Hernandez to lead 21-8 in the second quarter, but then went nearly six minutes with out a point. Spring Creek wasn’t much better on offense as well, as Lowry led 22-12 at the break.
“We got into a little bit of foul trouble and got in a lull on offense,” Zamudio. “We didn’t lose much because our defense was still playing well and that was the difference. There are times where the girls don’t get the credit they deserve on the defensive side.”
It was Lowry’s seniors time to shine, as Whitted, Petersen, Backus and Kuskie combined for 13 of the 15 points in the third quarter. Petersen had six of those points, including a shot at the buzzer. Petersen finished her high school career with 13 points.
“It feels amazing right now,” Petersen said. “We have worked together for so long and now that we have it, it feels so great. We have put so much work in together and we have bonded and become family. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anybody else. I was ready to go and I knew it was my last game with these girls. I was going to put it all out there on the court. I was going to do everything I could do to help us win. To do this with this group is special.”
Lowry led by as many as 26 points on two occasions in the fourth quarter after baskets by Backus and Kuskie.
Stoker and Backus joined Petersen with 13 points, Whitted added six, Kuskie five and Hernandez two.
“We knew there was pressure on us and we talked about that,” Zamudio said. “We had a big talk of not getting too high and too low. Don’t let the mistakes bring you down and the successes get you too high. At the end, results are what they are going to be and the hard work paid off. I feel great for our seniors after they missed last year and we have a good group coming back.”