White Pine wins big in Las Vegas to claim first title in 10 years
The White Pine High School Ladycats had already put the game away as the clock ticked down its final seconds, but it wasn’t until it hit zero that they knew they had actually done something the program hadn’t done in 10 years. They had just won a state championship, and the emotions from the players, the coach and the fans in attendance showed just how much that meant.
The players who had sat on the bench with their hands clasped during the final few minutes jumped into the air. The friends and families that had made the trip down to Las Vegas to cheer them on screamed and clapped. The Ladycat’s coach Krystal Smith couldn’t help but cry as she hugged family members.
“That celebration is something that I will always remember,” Smith said.
Just one week prior, White Pine secured their spot in the Division III state tournament as the top seed after they defeated Needles in the division title game. They found themselves in a rematch against Needles for the championship. Smith had been there before two years ago, standing inside the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas getting ready for a state championship game. According to Smith, it was impossible not to think back to that time while also using it as fuel to not let an opportunity like that slip through her hands again.
“When I walked into the gym today, I thought back to that time, back to that disappointment that we had and the girls we had who worked so hard but not accomplish their goal,” she said.
Turns out, history doesn’t always repeat itself.
The Ladycats went on a scoring run in the second quarters against the Mustangs and never looked back. Smith gave credit to the team’s strong defense and an offense that was led by a “phenomenal effort” under the hoop by Debra Kingston and a “tremendous” three-point shooting game by Jaden Earnest on the way to their 52-36 win on Saturday.
“This was more than just winning this for our team, this was for the girls who have been there before and laid the foundation of Ladycat basketball and for our fans,” Smith said.
Earnest was key to the Ladycat’s run through the post-season, sinking four three-point shots in the team’s games against Incline in the semifinals and Needles in the finals. The senior had been apart of the team that had gnome so close to a title two years ago, so she said that she was ready for the chance to again in her last high school game. Yet half an hour after the game had ended and se had finished taking team pictures and hugging family, she admitted it was still hard to accept that her team had done it.
“It is still pretty surreal,” Earnest said. “I guess the weight of it hasn’t hit me yet because I’ve been waiting for this for so long. We’ve come so close before and now, I don’t have any words when we actually won.”
Junior Kadi Finicum became another crucial puzzle piece in Smith’s game plan. After Needles finished the first quarter up 13-12, Smith emphasized the need to grab rebounds and box out under the hoop. The team responded, and Finicum and Kingston began to take control, helping the Ladycats eventually grab 20 more total rebounds than the Mustangs.
“It was really physical, but you had to just know that you were going to get the ball. That was the mindset we had,” Finicum said. After winning, she described the feeling of being a state champion as a “dream come true.”
In the end, like it has for the Ladycats all season, the game came down to defense. The Ladycats didn’t allow the Mustangs a single field goal in the final six minutes of the game. It was the best performance by Smith’s defense against the Mustangs in the four times the two teams had met over the season, and according to Smith, she could not be more proud of their effort.
“It was crazy. There were so many things flashing through my mind. The pride that our girls played with. Their hard work and dedication. I think the world of the 13 girls that got to come with us. They just work so dang hard and they love and respect each other. They are just a strong, close knit team and I don’t think anyone deserved to win this more than them.”