Team enters state tournament in Vegas as top seed from south

The White Pine High School Ladycat basketball team holds the Southern Nevada Division III title after defeating Needles 48-37 in Las Vegas on Feb. 21.  (Garrett Estrada photo)

The White Pine High School Ladycat basketball team holds the Southern Nevada Division III title after defeating Needles 48-37 in Las Vegas on Feb. 21.
(Garrett Estrada photo)

The White Pine High School girls basketball team claimed their first ever Southern Nevada Division III title on Feb. 21 and secured a number one seed in this weekend’s state tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

As the game clock ticked down to just under a minute remaining in the championship game Saturday against Needles High School, Ladycats coach Krystal Smith substituted out all five of her starters for her bench and junior varsity players. The game was already out of reach for the Mustangs from California with the Ladycats up 11 points. Smith wanted each player on the team to get at least a minute of playing time in their division title win.

“These girls work super hard day in and day out. They have great character and are great students and they are so deserving of what they earned today,” Smith said after the game.

For team captain Ashlyn Huntington, the tournament couldn’t have ended in a more “fun” fashion.

“It was awesome. It was cool watching the JV players getting a chance to go in and be a part of it but it was just really exciting,” the senior said of the team’s win.

But the road to the title for the Ladycats wasn’t an easy one, and after the first three quarters of their game against Lincoln on Feb. 20, many fans of the team that made the trip were wondering if they would even advance.

Smith had said in the week leading up to the division tournament that the team had worked extensively on breaking Lincoln’s aggressive press defense and improving their own free throw shooting percentage. Despite the practice, the Ladycats found themselves down early, struggling to find open shots. Though neither team shot the ball well in the first half, Lincoln gained an early lead and held onto it until halftime.

It was not the kind of start Smith was hoping to see from her team offensively, but the Ladycats defense had kept the score within reach.

“We talked at the half about how we weren’t executing on the things we had focused on before the game. We couldn’t get offensive rebounds and we were having a hard time breaking their press, something we had worked on. But I thought we kept ourselves in pretty good shape for not doing the things that were our keys to the game,” the coach said.

Smith challenged her players to “give everything they had for the next 16 minutes” and to be mentally smarter on the court.

The Ladycats returned to the court